US Tech Firms Increase EU Lobbying, EU Pushes Back

France, Spain and Germany are among several nations keen to push EU legislation on cybersecurity over various internet companies including U.S. tech giants.

National telecoms ministries across various countries are in discussions with Members of European Parliament before a Council meeting in Luxembourg on June 12, where a proposal is being geared to bring in new cybersecurity policies across the European Union (EU).

The frenetic lobbying

Under the watchful eye of the authorities in Europe and encumbered with the lack of allies across the pond, U.S. technology firms have taken to cash-fuelled lobbying efforts. The companies are targeting EU institutions and are looking to specifically influence new EU legislation through several interest groups. The issues on the table range from data protection to copyright concerns. U.S. firms are also ramping up their efforts with public-relations campaigns, making claim to highlighting their efforts to create jobs in Europe.

Some intriguing numbers include:

  • Google doubled its spending on “direct lobbying” of EU institutions to anywhere between €3.5 million and €4 million Euros, or $3.9 million and $4.4 million dollars. This is up from €1.25 million to €1.5 million in 2013.
  • With much contrast back home, Google dished out $16.8 million last year, lobbying Congress and various federal agencies in the U.S.
  • Microsoft, for instance, spent even more, between €4.5 million to €5 million on direct lobbying in Brussels, Belgium last year.

“The huge increase of lobbying efforts by Silicon Valley [began] when the whole net-neutrality and data-protection debate started three or four years ago,” said Jan Philipp Albrecht, lead negotiator for the European Parliament on the European Union’s new data-protection laws. This is a significant area of interest for U.S. tech giants.

“Most of it is…not really directly affiliated to them,” but takes place through “business associations, lawyers, and consultants, even scientists and newspapers,” said Mr. Albrecht said, pointing to the fact that lobbying efforts fundamentally rely on well-funded interest groups.

The EU resistance

As mentioned above, Spain, Germany and France are countries leading the charge among the EU to press legislation onto various internet companies.

“The member states want to take a first step on platform regulation,” warned Andreas Schwab, a German member of the European People’s Party and the leader of the Parliament’s negotiating team.

The draft law for cybersecurity would force and seek greater transparency on Internet firms. The draft itself requires important Internet Service Providers (ISPs), critical infrastructure operators such as admins and services catering to stock exchanges, hospitals, public utilities etc., as well as public and civic administrations to embrace new measures to be guarded against cyber attacks. It is also stressed that serious breaches of data are reported to authorities.

Various telecom companies in Europe gripe with firms like Skype and WhatsApp, owned by Facebook saying that the U.S. tech giants do not face the same regulations that they do while European companies lose out on user numbers and revenue.

“Nowadays many young people are sending messages with WhatsApp, but there is no logic why you should be better protected when sending an SMS,” said Harald Boerekamp, EU policy director of GSMA, an international association representing mobile operators.

It will be interesting to see how the regulations pan out in the near future as EU efforts step up to counter U.S. companies. There is even an acronym, dubbed GAFA in France that stands for Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon, with France wanting a wide EU crackdown on these large portals.