Google logo in Berlin

Google, Facebook and Microsoft revealed as EU’s leading anti-regulation lobbyists

Image credit: Reuters

Alphabet Inc's Google unit, Facebook Inc and Microsoft Corp are the three biggest lobbying spenders in Europe in a concerted campaign against tough new laws proposed by the EU, aimed at curbing the US tech giants' powers, a study released today has revealed.

Such committed efforts should be a wake-up call to EU policymakers to beef up the draft laws and lobbying rules, according to the study from two campaign groups, Corporate Europe Observatory and LobbyControl.

The tech sector now outspends even the pharma, fossil fuels, finance and chemicals sectors, which all used to dominate EU lobbying, the report said.

"The rising lobby firepower of big tech and the digital industry as a whole mirrors the sectors' huge and growing role in society," the study said. "It is remarkable and should be a cause of concern that the platforms can use this firepower to ensure their voices are heard – over countervailing and critical voices – in the debate over how to construct new rules for digital platforms."

The study found that 612 companies, groups and associations spend more than €97m (£83m) annually lobbying on EU digital economy policies. The data was submitted by companies to the EU Transparency Register up to mid-June 2021.Google topped spending at €5.75m, followed by Facebook at €5.5m; Microsoft at €5.25m; Apple at €3.5m; Huawei Technologies Co Ltd at €3m, and Inc in sixth place with €2.75m, the study said.

Google and Huawei responded that they submit their lobbying data to the EU transparency register. "We have clear policies in place to protect the independence of the people and organisations we sponsor, including a requirement to disclose funding," Google said in an email.

A Microsoft statement read: "The European Union has been and remains an important stakeholder for Microsoft. We seek to be a constructive and transparent partner to European policymakers."

Facebook, Apple and Amazon offered no immediate comment when approached by Reuters.

The tech lobbying focuses on two key pieces of legislation: the Digital Markets Act lists do's and don'ts for tech giants and the Digital Services Act, which requires companies to do more to police content on their platforms.

The study warned about the industry's access to the European Commission, with lobbyists involved in three-quarters of the 270 meetings Commission officials had on the two draft laws.

The study also cited the role played by trade and business associations, think tanks and even political parties in promoting the tech industry's narrative.

The European Commission rejected the criticism. "The Commission is open to meeting anyone who wishes to speak to us. The Commission does not, and will not, control who requests meetings, nor how often. It is also not for the Commission to explain or comment on lobbying strategies of the different companies and interest representatives," a spokesperson said in an email to Reuters.

In what is possibly not a coincidence on the day the lobbying study was released, Google today announced an investment of €1bn (£859m) in new cloud computing infrastructure in Germany.

Google said it will make the huge investment by 2030 to expand its cloud computing infrastructure in Germany and to increase the use of renewable energy. It said it plans to add new cloud computing centres in the Berlin region and in the town of Hanau, close to the DE-CIX data exchange in Frankfurt.

Google said it would purchase more than 140MW of electricity from the German subsidiary of French utility company Engie over the coming years to operate the data centres.

The company said Engie will guarantee that 80 per cent of the electricity comes from carbon-free sources, including a new solar park and 22 existing wind parks in Germany. Google said it aims to use 100 per cent renewable energy by 2030.

Germany’s economy minister Peter Altmaier called the announcement a “strong signal” for green energy and digital infrastructure.

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