Microsoft spends more than any other tech company in the world on lobbying the EU, if you believe the figures in the non-obligatory EU Transparency Register.
A new online tool called LobbyFacts.eu allows data from the register to be automatically sorted, compared, ranked and analysed in ways not possible through the official EU site. It calculates that Microsoft is number three in the lobbying stakes, spending €4.75m per year, behind tobacco giant Philip Morris and petrol company ExxonMobil.
Other tech firms in the top ten are Siemens, at number five with €4.35m, and Huawei, at number eight with an estimated spend of €3m. Telekom Austria Group was at number 10 with €2.75m
All of that spending adds up to a lot of pressure on the MEPs and European Commission staff who are drawing up new telecoms regulations.
Search behemoth Google spends between €1.25m and €1.5m per year; around one third the Microsoft figure.
However, this all presupposes that the figures in the Transparency Register are honest and accurate; something that might not necessarily be the case when you consider that Apple claims it only employs four people to lobby the EU and spends just €250,000, while Facebook only employs two people and spends €450,000 per year.
As Natacha Cingotti of Friends of the Earth Europe explained:
“What we see is just the tip of the iceberg. Given the lack of a mandatory register, too much of the lobbying directed at EU institutions is shrouded in secrecy, with numerous lobby groups and law firms shunning disclosure or under-reporting their lobby budgets.”
So-called “astroturfing”, where big business hides behind innocuous-sounding associations, is nothing new in Brussels. For example, the European Privacy Association (EPA), which claims on the Transparency Register that it “has no corporate backers” is partly funded by Google, Microsoft and Yahoo… although only Microsoft admits it on the Transparency Register.
According to LobbyFacts.eu, the biggest EU lobby consultancies have a combined turnover of over €60m per year. Lobby consultancies hold more than 670 Parliament access passes and the five biggest have 130 lobbyists accredited to the European Parliament between them. There are also plenty of legitimate trade associations and law firms too.
All this adds up to making the job of working out who is spending money to influence what as clear as mud. But one thing does seem to be clear: there are more US-based lobby organisations in the EU register than organisations from Poland, Austria, Sweden or Denmark.
Max Bank of LobbyControl says there is also a clear need for a mandatory register, something the current Interinstitutional Commissioner, Maroš Šefčovič, has resisted. In May the Commissioner defended the optional register saying it “avoids over-regulation and administrative burden on both the administration and on registered organisations”.
He added that the only legal basis for a mandatory register is Article 352 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, which would require unanimity between member states – some of which would need prior approval from their national parliaments.
The new European Commission president-designate, Jean-Claude Juncker, has hinted that he may be in favour of a new mandatory EU lobby register. The voluntary register currently has more than 6,600 registrants representing around 30,000 individual lobbyists. ®