Google, Microsoft among biggest IT industry lobbyists at European Commission

Google was the most prolific corporate lobbyist in Brussels between December and June, with 32 meetings with senior officials

The entrance to the European Commission headquarters in Brussels on June 17, 2015

The entrance to the European Commission headquarters in Brussels on June 17, 2015

Google and its lobbyists have had more meetings with European Commission officials than any other company, according to figures published by Transparency International on Wednesday.

With 32 meetings logged between December and June, Google's lobbying is topped only by that of BusinessEurope, whose 67 member companies span the automotive, aviation, chemical, energy, IT and metallurgical industries. Its IT-industry members include Microsoft, Facebook, IBM, Oracle and Samsung Electronics.

Other prolific corporate lobbyists include General Electric, Airbus, and Microsoft, which had 20 meetings with Commission officials during the period.

Transparency International's analysis, covering over 4,000 lobby meetings declared by top Commission officials between December and June, showed that over three-quarters of the meetings were with corporate lobbyists, 18 percent with NGOs and 2 percent with local authorities. It drew the data from the Commission's own Transparency Register.

The analysis is interesting because it shows more clearly which companies have the greatest opportunity to influence decision making. It gives EU citizens an insight into how companies try to influence lawmakers, and is continuously updated as new meetings are registered by the participants.

The database also includes organizations declarations of how many lobbyists they have, and their lobbying budget. BusinessEurope said its budget of €4 million (US$4.5 million) covered 29 lobbyists, 23 of them with access badges for the European Parliament. Google said its budget was €3.5 million for the equivalent of nine full-time lobbyists and eight access badges. Microsoft said it spent the most of the three, though: €4.5 million for just seven lobbyists.

These figures may not mean much, as organizations often don't understand well what they should report, according to Daniel Freund of Transparency International. "There is a big share of under reporting, there is a big share of over reporting," he said, adding that many of these declarations are false. "We found in our analysis that about one third of the declarations in the register are completely meaningless."

The declarations of big organizations like Google and Microsoft, at least, are in a believable range, he said.

With other companies, you have to wonder what they're spending on: ASML, which makes semiconductor manufacturing equipment, reported a lobby budget of €10 million but said it had only two lobbyists and zero meetings with top officials.

In general, though, "Organizations that do spend more also get better access," said Freund. "You have Microsoft in the top spenders and we know that other organizations such as Uber, Amazon are all very active in Brussels, they have all recently hired staff and they spend more money."

For its money, Google had meetings about the antitrust investigation against the company; data protection; copyright, and Google News. It also discussed antiradicalization moves and the fight against the presence of terrorism and online propaganda, among other issues. Microsoft's 20 meetings covered topics including the Commission's plans for a Digital Single Market and for reform of telecommunications regulations.

Transparency International can only analyze meetings entered into the database, something not everyone is scrupulous about doing. Günther Oettinger, Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, hadn't updated his lobby meetings until the evening before the launch of the register. "He had been sloppy in logging his meetings over the last few months and he logged 70 meetings Tuesday night," said Freund.

So far, Oettinger has logged 115 meetings and in those he has only met with two civil society organizations, Freund said. "He seems to be taking his advice almost exclusively from the big tech companies," he said.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, online payment issues as well as EU technology policy and regulation for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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Peter Sayer and Loek Essers

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