Google meets more EU apparatchiks than anyone else in Brussels

It's lobby central as the Chocolate Factory leans on the lawmakers

willy wonka oompa loompa
Would you like some chocolate with your pitch?

Google tops the list of companies lobbying in Brussels, according to a report published on Wednesday by Transparency International (TI).

TI analysed the 4,318 lobby meetings declared by the top tier of European Commission officials between December 2014 and June 2015 and found the Chocolate Factory came out on top for individual companies with 29 meetings. Only BusinessEurope, which represents industry associations in 34 countries and includes Microsoft as a member, had more.

According to TI’s online tool, Google reps met to talk about the obvious topics of copyright reform, the Digital Single Market strategy, data protection and of course the ongoing antitrust investigation into Google’s search behaviour – so far, so predictable.

But Commission officials also met to hear about how Google “can contribute in the anti-radicalization debate and the fight against the presence of terrorism propaganda online,” “Google's Irish operations and promotional activities to increase eCommerce success of food-chain companies,” and “the role of internet and innovation to foster economic growth and job creation in Europe.”

“The evidence of the last six months suggests there is a strong link between the amount of money you spend and the number of meetings you get,” says Daniel Freund from Transparency International EU. “Those organisations with the biggest lobby budgets get a lot of access, particularly on the financial, digital and energy portfolios.”

Google declares an EU lobby budget of around €3.5m per year.

TI observes that Digi Commissioner Günther H-dot Oettinger has recorded just two meetings with “civil society” groups. When extended to his whole team, only about four per cent of the 366 recorded meetings on the Digital Economy were with non-corporate lobbyists.

The data also reveals that 80 per cent of the 7,821 organisations currently registered did not have a single meeting reported with an EU commissioner or their teams, demonstrating the limitations of the European Commission’s new transparency provisions. They only cover the highest ranking top one per cent of EU officials and and not lower-level officials, no matter how well placed.

The official list of meetings for H-dot are complete up to 3 June, but that has only come about following some public prodding from Karsten Gerloff of Free Software Foundation Europe, who noticed a significant gap in the Commissioner’s schedule. Following a blog post on 10 June, the details were updated.

“In addition to the full list of meetings, it would be interesting to know what guidelines Oettinger and his team use when it comes to transparency on less formal meetings with lobbyists. Presumably, the Commissioner meets people not just at his office, but also at the events where he frequently appears as a speaker. This is a substantial hole in the Commission’s own transparency policy, and I’d love to know how Oettinger and his team are planning to fill it,” said Gerloff.

Bootnote

Should lobbyists be wondering who to work their charms on lobby, that list will change from 1 September. As part of a shake-up announced on Wednesday, Roberto Viola will take over as director general of CONNECT (the Commission’s digital department) while current DG Robert Madelin will move into a new role as Chief Innovation Advisor. ®

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