Fancy a cup of coffee on your way to work in the EU quarter of Brussels? It's free this morning. Facebook is paying. With EU plans to introduce a digital tax, American tech giants are getting creative with lobbying in Brussels, using any opportunity to increase their visibility.
According to Transparency International, in 2019 alone, Google spent 8 million euro on lobbying in Brussels. Along with Amazon, Facebook and Apple, lobbying budgets have increased by 510% since 2014.
A lot of money to try to protect profits and business. Lobbyists try to get access to the corridors where senior EU officials work. But if they can’t get in there, they can always meet them for a drink, for an informal dinner or in fancy hotel venues.
In the many bars around the EU quarter people meet and greet, swap cards, strike deals.
Alexandra Geese is concerned. The Green MEP explains how tech companies approach her and her colleagues.
"I don't think it is a good idea to talk about politics or policy with a glass of wine in your hand and excellent food offered by a person who has clear interests to represent. And then there is a little less transparent lobby because they are members of industry associations or they have consultancy working for them. So you talk to people and you don't realize if they are representing the interests of Google, or Facebook or the Silicon Valley because the names are different”.
Contacted by Euronews, lobby groups declined to be interviewed.
How influential are they? It is hard to say. Keeping track of the meetings with accredited lobbyists is mandatory only for the European Commission, says Raphaël Kergueno from Transparency International.
"The current lobby regulation is very incomplete and if we as journalist, citizens and civil society organization want to know the footprint of an organization like Google, we can only know about the Commission, partially about the European Parliament, but we cannot see the full mapping in Brussels".
Commission Vice-President for Values and Transparency Vera Jourova is working for the creation of a mandatory lobby register for all EU institutions and has called on European parliament and Council to relaunch the negotiations as soon as possible.
This might help to change the reputation of Brussels as the capital of lobby.