Google: One of Brussels’ most active lobbyists

December 12th, 2016
by Vicky Cann

Google is, without doubt, one of the most active lobbyists in Brussels. With 120 lobby meetings held since December 2014 with a commissioner, cabinet member or director-general, (there have probably been many more meetings with lower level officials, not to mention MEPs, but these are not systematically published), Google is second only to BusinessEurope (140 meetings) in terms of lobby organisations with the best access to the elite of the Commission.

LobbyFacts also shows that Google is the fourth highest spending corporation when it comes to EU lobbying, with an annual declared EU lobby spend of €4,250,000 - €4,499,999, matching fellow digital industry competitor Microsoft.

google-2012.pnggoogle-now.png

Google's EU lobby expenditure was far more modest when it first joined the lobby register in March 2011. LobbyFacts’ archive facility (available on Google's datacard) reveals that, in 2011, its declared annual lobby spend was €600,000 - €700,000, but by the following year (2012) it had nearly doubled to €1,000,000 - €1,250,000. By 2014, Google’s declared EU lobby spending had grown to more than €3,500,000, and for 2015 (the most recent figure declared), expenditure leapt again to €4,250,000 - €4,499,999 per year. All in all, since 2011, Google’s declared EU lobby spend has increased by 700 per cent in five years.

It would be interesting to know what Google spends its lobby budget on. It probably isn’t exclusively on its lobbyists’ salaries, as the figures of declared lobbyists and European Parliament accredited pass-holders have not fluctuated wildly since 2012, when Google first obtained seven EP passes. Today Google declares seven pass-holders (including Tobias Mckenney, formerly of DG Internal Market, who features on CEO’s RevolvingDoorWatch) and the equivalent of eight full-time lobbyists.

Google is a member of various business and trade associations that set up lobbying opportunities for their members, or lobby on their behalf. These include AMISA2 (a shadowy group of businesses which holds monthly breakfast meetings with top EU decision-makers); BusinessEurope (last month, Google was part of BusinessEurope’s seven-hour marathon lobby fest with four commissioners, hosted in the Commission’s own premises) and DIGITALEUROPE, which is the trade association for the digital technology industry.

Of course, Google has a formidable number of issues on which it lobbies the EU institutions. Its lobby register entry refers to obvious dossiers such as the Commission’s digital single market strategy; the future of the internet; cyber-security; and intellectual property.

But providing context to all of Google’s current EU lobbying must be the three anti-trust cases launched by the Commission against Google and / or its parent company Alphabet. These cover its AdSense advertising business; its shopping service; and whether its Android operating system gives preferential treatment to Google products. The first anti-trust case was opened by the Commission in 2010; Google joined the (voluntary) EU lobby register four months later.

According to The Guardian, Google faces fines of up to 10 per cent of its global turnover for each case if found guilty of breaching antitrust rules. In that context, an annual €4 million plus spend on EU lobbying probably seems like a worthwhile investment.

Data from LobbyFacts correct as of 12 December 2016.

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