Big Tech takes EU lobby spending to an all time high
New research by Corporate Europe Observatory and LobbyControl shows that Big Tech has spent record sums of money to lobby EU institutions. The report shows that the digital industry now spends nearly €100 million on lobbying, a sum which dwarfs all other lobby spending by the private sector. This lobby surge comes as the EU discusses more stringent regulations on tech companies via the Digital Services Act (DSA) and the Digital Markets Act (DMA).
The new study ‘The Lobby network, Big Tech’s web of influence in the EU’ provides a unique and detailed analysis of the lobbying power of tech companies at EU level. It maps the biggest players, their networks and countries of origin, and uncovers their lobby budgets and access to EU decisions. The research also unveils how this lobbying power plays out in practice in the context of ongoing EU policy debates on the Digital Services legislative pack.
More than €97 million is spent by the digital industry on lobbying in Europe. A sectoral comparison of the top 10 companies across different industries shows that Big Tech now has more lobbying power than the pharmaceutical, car or financial industries.
Some of the main findings of the study include the fact that:
- 612 companies, groups and business associations are lobbying actively to influence the EU’s digital economy policies. Together, they spend at least €97 million annually lobbying the EU institutions.
- Despite the varied number of players in this area, tech lobbying is dominated by a handful of firms. Just 10 companies are responsible for almost a third (€32 million) of the total tech lobby spend: Vodafone, Qualcomm, Intel, IBM, Amazon, Huawei, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook and Google.
- These 10 firms are also collectively organised into business and trade associations, which are themselves important lobby actors. The business associations lobbying on behalf of Big Tech have a lobbying budget that far surpasses the lobby budget of the 75 per cent of smaller companies that make up the majority of the digital industry.
- 20 per cent of all the companies lobbying the EU on digital policy are US based - though this number is likely even higher. Less than 1 per cent have head offices in China or Hong Kong. This implies that Chinese firms have so far not invested in EU lobbying as heavily as their US counterparts.
- Big Tech’s huge lobbying budgets have a significant impact on EU policy-makers and secure privileged access: Commission high-level officials held 270 meetings since November 2019. 75 percent of these meetings were with industry lobbyists. Google and Facebook led the pack in terms of numbers of meetings.
Max Bank, LobbyControl spokesperson, expert on lobbying and digital corporate power comments: "Currently, political processes are underway in the EU that aim to bring in stricter rules for digital platforms. With the Digital Markets Act (DMA) and the Digital Services Act (DSA), the EU Commission wants to limit the power of Google, Amazon and other big players. The digital industry is up in arms against this, and its concentrated lobbying power threatens to water these proposals down.
“The EU Institutions must respond by strengthening lobby and ethics regulation. EU member states, especially, must stop acting opaquely, and finally ensure that they provide democratic accountability regarding their processes and decisions. But policy-makers also need to be proactive and ensure they reach out to civil society, academia, impacted communities and small businesses.”
“But the power of Big Tech also comes from its market power and its business model. EU regulation is needed to limit the excessive market power of Big Tech, and empower citizens.”
Margarida Silva, Corporate Europe Observatory researcher said:
" Our findings show that lobbying, especially by the US tech giants, has one goal: to push back against any strict rules that could affect Big Tech’s business model and profit margins.”
“From a democratic perspective, these immense lobby budgets are deeply worrying and unhealthy. Efforts to regulate the digital economy have the potential to deliver a better internet - one that serves people, small businesses and communities. It is crucial that independent voices and citizens get involved in these policy discussions, to ensure that corporate lobbyists don’t get to shape the future of technology.”
Notes to the editor:
- Academic and Big Tech critic Shoshana Zuboff has argued that lobbying – alongside establishing relationships with elected politicians, a steady revolving door, and a campaign for cultural and academic influence – has acted as the fortification that allowed a business model built on violating people’s privacy and unfairly dominating the market to flourish without being challenged.
- Big Tech’s current narrative relies on ostensibly supporting new rules - but only toothless ones, carefully shaped by the industry. They then combine this approach with attempts to reframe regulation as a threat, not to their own profits but to SMEs and consumers. The final lobby tactic stokes geopolitical fears by warning that regulation will cause Europe to fall behind the United States and, above all, China. Underlying this narrative is still the belief that regulation stifles innovation.
- Big Tech’s lobbying also relies on its funding of a wide network of third parties, including think-tanks, SMEs, start ups and legal and economic consultancies, to push through its messages. These funding links are often not disclosed, obfuscating potential biases and conflicts of interest.
- In the past year, lobbying by Big Tech has impacted several EU policy discussions, including those on the General Data Protection Regulation, the ePrivacy Directive, the Copyright Directive, and the ongoing the proposal for an Artificial Intelligence Act.