Brussels calling: tech firms add lobby strength as EU gets tough

Thu Sep 8, 2016 4:55am EDT
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By Foo Yun Chee and Julia Fioretti

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - U.S. tech giants Google (GOOGL.O: Quote) and Facebook (FB.O: Quote) are among multinationals spending more in Brussels as the European Commission eyes new business regulation after last week handing Apple a 13-billion-euro tax demand.

A new annual filing by Google to the EU's Transparency Register showed it spent roughly 15-20 percent more on lobbying European Union officials and lawmakers last year than in 2014, itself some three times as much as in the year before that.

A review by Reuters of EU lobbying budgets of a handful of leading U.S. firms which have been in the spotlight of European regulatory debates showed Google among the biggest spenders of all corporations, reporting a budget of 4.25-4.50 million euros ($4.8-5.1 million) in 2015. That compared to 3.5-4.0 million euros the year before and 1.25-1.5 million euros in 2013.

A spokesman for the company, which has been served with three sets of charges in the past two years by EU antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager, said its 14 staff involved in lobbying in Brussels were there to provide information.

"European politicians have many questions for Google and about the Internet. We're working hard to answer those questions, helping policymakers understand our business and the opportunity for European businesses to grow online," he said.

Google's annual Transparency Register filing, publicized on Wednesday by anti-corruption group Transparency International, appeared online coincidentally on Aug. 30. On that day European Competition Commissioner Vestager ordered Apple to pay a record $14.5 billion in back taxes to Ireland after ruling that the U.S. firm had effectively had illegal subsidies from Dublin.

The iPhone maker did not respond to a request for comment on its lobbying in Brussels, where it has been advertising since July for a new government affairs manager to "represent Apple's position with policymakers".

Its EU declaration of spending a modest 800,000-900,000 euros last year and employing just five staff working part-time on lobbying has prompted speculation that it may have underplayed its hand -- though EU officials insist that they are not influenced by high-pressure corporate lobbying.   Continued...

A woman hovers a mouse over the Google and European Union logos in this April 15, 2015 photo illustration.  REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo