MEPs launch hotline to tip off Big Tech's 'shady lobbying' in EU institutions

Members of the European Parliament vote at the European Parliament, Jan. 17, 2023 in Strasbourg, eastern France.
Members of the European Parliament vote at the European Parliament, Jan. 17, 2023 in Strasbourg, eastern France. Copyright AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias
Copyright AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias
By Euronews
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The hotline website promises to guarantee complete anonymity for staff of EU institutions that come forward to tip off any irregularities in lobbying practices by Big Tech companies.

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A group of cross-party MEPs on Thursday launched a website to allow for the anonymous tip-off of "shady lobbying" of European Union institutions by big tech companies.

The hotline website — lobbyleaks.eu — promises to guarantee complete anonymity for staff of EU institutions that come forward to tip off any irregularities in lobbying practices by Big Tech companies.

The aim, according to a press statement, is to increase pressure on EU institutions "to hold Big Tech’s shady lobbying campaigns to account" and increase transparency.

Currently, any individual or organisation that lobbies EU institutions in the hope of influencing the legislative process must be registered on a Transparency Register. The database is supposed to make clear what interests they pursue, for whom and with what budgets.  

But some MEPs launched complaints in October last year against Google, Amazon and Meta accusing them of using front groups to "opaquely" push their interests. 

LobbyControl, one of two non-profit organisations involved in the project, will investigate the tip-offs with the information also used as the basis for complaints to the Transparency Register secretariat.

Dutch MEP Paul Tang (S&D) said that "as politicians, it is our duty to balance the interests of industry, civil society and society at large. Manipulation by shady lobbying is a threat not only to proper law-making, but to our whole democracy."

"That’s why we have to turn the spotlight on all these wolves in sheep’s clothing and fight against unfaithful lobbying methods," he also said.

Bram Vranken, a campaigner and researcher at Corporate Europe Observatory, the second NGO involved in the hotline, added that "Big Tech’s business model is toxic."

"It is based on aggressive surveillance advertising and data extraction, deploying algorithmic content management systems that amplify disinformation and hateful content, and denies workers their rights.

A recent corruption scandal involving members of the European Parliament has further exposed large holes in the Transparency Register as one of the NGOs implicated never registered on the database despite its founder, former MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri, being regularly invited to provide expert opinion to lawmakers. 

The cash-for-favour scheme, allegedly involving Qatar and Morocco, has led European Parliament Roberta Metsola to propose 14 measures to increase transparency including the mandatory publication for MEPs of all their scheduled meetings and more detailed declarations on conflicts of interests and personal finances.

But some civil society organisations such as Transparency International EU have criticised the fact they still rely on self-enforcement and self-policing by MEPs themselves.

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