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In a report released on August 31, the Corporate Europe Observatory and Lobby Control organizations denounce the influence of Gafam on European digital decisions. The web giants – Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft – spend millions of dollars on lobbying with the European institutions.
« Je want a digital Europe that reflects the best of Europe: open, honest, diverse, democratic and secure ”, said the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen. With this in mind, the Commission has developed the ” Digital Services Act ” and the “ Digital Markets Act “, Two sets of proposals for” better protect consumers », « put in place a solid framework for the transparency of online platforms “, and “ foster innovation, growth and competitiveness of the single market. »
97 million euros
But the approach is not to everyone’s taste. According to investigation, nearly 97 million euros would be spent each year on lobbyingby companies in the sector to influence the digital policy of the European Union. A budget that exceeds that deployed by the pharmaceutical or fossil fuel industry. Unsurprisingly, ten companies alone assume nearly a third of this influence budget: the five “Gafam”, world leaders in the sector, but also Vodafone, IBM, Qualcomm, Intel, and Huawei.
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Because if “Big Tech” companies do not all speak with one voice, they share a certain number of common interests. Their objective would no longer be to prevent all regulations, but to ensure their flexibility to preserve their margins and their economic model. The first two initiatives of the European Union on digital, the ” Digital Services Act ” and the « Digital Markets Act Were therefore the subject of sustained attention from lobbyists, who attended 75% of the 270 meetings organized by the European Commission to develop them. According to the survey, Commissioners Vestager (Digital Economy) and Breton (Internal Market) were particularly targeted, as was the cabinet of President Von der Leyen.
Communication geared towards civil society, the defense of small digital players and consumers
The proposals having been adopted by the European Commission, the battle for influence is now being played out within the European Parliament and the Council, responsible for examining them. According to the survey, the digital giants, mostly American, are seeking to fill their lack of influence with member states by adopting communication geared towards civil society. Because if, publicly, the digital giants speak out in favor of proposals, the investigation claims that they are in fact continuing to lobby against them.
The Gafam would thus appeal to think-tanks and to law firms and consultants to maintain their image as start-ups friendly, far removed from that of giants monopolizing the sector and fighting against regulations. The report targets the argument of lobbies, based on the defense of small digital players and consumers.
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In a communication campaign in Germany, Google is thus presenting itself as a factor in the development of urban centers. To hear it, the ” Digital Services Act »Adopted as is would primarily affect small businesses and users, and threaten in fine the vitality of urban centers, where it would curb innovation and investment. Google thus denounces ” overly prescriptive obligations that may soon be exceeded, in a sector where technological progress is rapid. Apple said it supports the initiative, but that some of its implications could ” have serious consequences for the digital economy. »
With these arguments, companies seek, according to the survey, to look away from the impact that these regulations could have on their economic model. They thus promote a case-by-case approach which would amount to ” dilute the implementation of the concrete rules set out in the Digital Markets Act ”, This one seeking precisely to establish a global framework applying to the digital platforms as a whole.
The authors of the survey therefore conclude by warning about the power of influence of the digital industry, and the concentration of power within it. They call for a limitation of the powers of the digital lobby in Brussels, which they qualify as ” poison for democracy “. Recent debates on disinformation caused by digital technology, Protection of personal data or its impact on the stability of democratic processes do not prove them wrong. All the more so as the European People’s Party, from which Andreas Schwab, the rapporteur of the “ Digital Markets Act »At the European Parliament, has just hired as an advisor an expert from a think tank… precisely funded by the digital industry.