Transparency International EU (TI) says that major Silicon Valley companies have been lobbying in Brussels for years, but that the budget for lobbying has been increased in recent years, as Brussels tries to tackle tax avoidance schemes, data protection and privacy issues.
Google and Facebook are the two companies spending the most on lobbying in 2017, according to TI, at US$4.66 million and US$1.1 million respectively. Google lobby spend is up 240 percent since 2014. Cisco, Qualcomm, Apple, Oracle, Symantec, Netflix, Uber and eBay are all among the top spenders on lobbying.
"One of the secrets of Google's lobbying strategy seems to be the hiring staff from the EU institutions. Our research has shown that four out of seven lobbyists currently accredited with the European Parliament have been hired directly from the Parliament to lobby their former colleagues," said Raphael Kergueno, TI Policy Officer, EU Integrity in a blog.
"A total of 23 individuals from the EU institutions have been hired since 2009, of which 11 were specifically lobbying the EU. With the more than one meeting per week, the strategy is paying off, potentially setting the example for other Silicon Valley companies."
According to TI, Uber — the app-driven transport outfit, which made headlines in May 2016 by hiring former Commissioner Neelie Kroes — as increased its lobby spending seven fold since 2015, although from a low base.
"All accredited lobbyists working for the car-booking service have previous experience from inside the EU institutions. Two of them were actually hired from Google's Brussels operation. With 50 high-levels meetings, the company already ranks 4th among our list of 25 major Silicon Valley companies," TI said.
The European Commission has accused Google of abusing its dominant position by systematically favoring its comparison shopping service in its search result pages and also by artificially restricting the possibility of third party websites to display search advertisements from Google's competitors.
The Commission has sent a Statement of Objections to Facebook alleging the company provided incorrect or misleading information during the Commission's 2014 investigation under the EU Merger Regulation of Facebook's planned acquisition of WhatsApp.
The Commission is in legal dispute after concluding that Ireland granted undue tax benefits of up to US$14.25 billion to Apple. This, says the Commission, is illegal under EU state aid rules, because it allowed Apple to pay substantially less tax than other businesses. Ireland must now recover the illegal aid.
The European Court of Justice is considering a case referred from a Spanish court against Uber, seeking to define whether the company is a transport firm or an app service provider — an "enabling platform." It follows protests against the business model operated by Uber.