The EU: Money and politics

July 15, 2020

Money and politics don’t go well together. Or maybe they do, it depends on how you look at it. For me, the combination of money and politics reeks of corruption, like in the movies. But, of course, money and politics co-exist in real life.

In the documentary Hackitat, a member of the pirate party is disappointed that there seems to be little moral accountability for members of the European Parliament when it comes to lobbying.

I have little understanding of politics, but I think I’d rather not see lobbying in politics. Of course, there are good actors, such as the Free Software Foundation Europe and the European Digital Rights association (EDRi). But there are bad actors as well. Uh… I mean large corporations that spent ungodly amounts of money to persuade politicians. No, what?! Yes, and the European Commission is being (somewhat) transparent about it, too.

The European Commission has a so-called transparency register that “allows for public scrutiny, giving citizens and other interest groups the possibility to track the activities of lobbyists.” Great, let’s dive in!

Let’s look at two (out of 11787) entries in the register: The European Digital Rights (EDRi) association, and Google.

The EDRi is an association of approximately 40 organizations that fight for our human rights, and they spent 200,000 € - 299,999 € in 2018 on activities that are covered by the register. They did not seem to be part of any Commission expert group, and they had 7 meetings with the European Commission since 2018 (pdf).

OK. Now let’s take a look at Google.

Google, a single company, spent 8,000,000 € - 8,249,999 € in 2018 on activities that are covered by the register. They had 16 lobbyists (the EDRi “only” had 6, and they are an association of 40 organizations!), they were part of a few Commission expert groups, and they had 74(!) meetings with the European Commission since 2018 (pdf).

In other words, a single multinational, billion dollar company had a lot more quality time with the European Commission than an association of 40 civic and human rights organizations. And, Google wasn’t the only multinational, billion/trillion dollar company… Anyone remember Facebook, or Apple?

So what?! Well, imagine you’re a politician and do not fully understand the inner workings of the internet. With EDRi, you might have rather interesting ideological discussions. However, their vision about copyright, privacy, net neutrality, etc. is complicated. Their vision might even seem quite uncommon, which is to be expected if you encounter them only once or twice a year. Consequently, after talking to the EDRi the world makes less sense.

Not so with Google. You see them regularly, and each time they are so patient, and so willing to explain to you the internet, nay, their version of what the internet should be. In talking with Google, you discover that they want exactly what you want, or… it’s the other way around, doesn’t matter. After talking to Google the world makes sense again.

So?

We. the people. are. f*cked.