A new study published by AK EUROPA shows how much influence internet companies such as Uber, Airbnb, Amazon, Deliveroo and co. have on European legislation. The thought behind this study is to shed light on the increasing and intransparent lobbying activities of the platform companies in Brussels
After some cities and states have already developed initial regulation approaches for the so-called “platform economy”, these companies are now attempting to bypass national regulations via the European level. To achieve this, Uber, Airbnb and others have reinforced their lobbying in particular regarding the European Commission. As the study shows, this attempt by the internet companies to gain influence has already been successful.
Mighty platform lobby in Brussels
One of the most active platform companies when it comes to lobbying is Uber. The study shows that from 2015 to 2018 over 50 meetings took place between the company lobbyists and the Juncker Commission and that Uber spent between 800,000 and 899,999 Euro for lobbying in 2017 alone. Amazon too met the Commission 59 times and had an official lobbying budget of 2 million Euros in 2018. Deliveroo is as well busily lobbying in Brussels - not only directly but via two hired agencies. Although not being entered into the transparency register, meetings took place between Deliveroo and cabinet members of Commissioner Thyssen to lobby for the definition of their employees as being self-employed.
Think tanks as spearhead
According to the study, the platform economy - apart from its own lobbying - also exercises its influence on decision-makers via consultancies, think tanks and business associations such as BusinessEurope, DigitalEurope and AmCham EU. Internet companies are even represented in expert groups of the EU Commission, such as Amazon in the VAT Group. An example for a lobbying think tank is the “Consumer Choice Centre” (CCC). Contrary to what the name suggests, the CCC does not stand up for consumer interests, but forces liberalisations to the benefit of Uber and Airbnb. In doing so, they also use studies of allegedly independent scientists without disclosing their true clients.
“Revolving doors” – from Commission to Uber supervisory board
After their term of office, some senior officials and politicians joined supervisory boards of platform companies. One drastic example is the case of the former Commissioner Neelie Kroes, who publically praised and defended Uber on several occasions. After her term of office, she accepted a position on the Uber supervisory board and received company shares.
Lobbying on E-Commerce and Services Directive
In particular the interpretation of the E-Commerce Directive 2000 and the Services Directive 2006 is an example for the successful lobbying of these platform companies. Both EU Directives were drawn up at a time when the platform economy was not yet an issue. However, under the pretext of “growth and innovation” and supported by corporate lobbyists, internet companies were able to prevail as the Commission interpreted these Directives in a way that was beneficial to them. These platforms also lobbied at all levels against planned Directives, which concern their regulation. Similarly, they lobbied with regard to cases, which had been brought before the ECJ or courts of the member states – for the time being with (preliminary) success, as in the case of Airbnb.
The objectives of platform lobbyists
In summary, one can recognise three lobbying objectives from the case examples and data collected by the study:
- Securing their status as “providers of information services”, to refuse cooperation with authorities and to bypass approvals;
- Restricting the intervention opportunities of authorities and
- Preventing that public interest provisions apply to them, such as the current debate as to what makes a company an “employer”.
Conclusions and recommendations
From the AK’s point of view - contrary to the objectives of the platform economy - no system should be possible, where companies are able to avoid their responsibilities. On the contrary, EU regulations, which enable bypassing labour or consumer protection laws or measures for affordable housing, should be reformed as soon as possible. The focus must be on public interest and not on the benefits of a small number of multinational platform companies. Clearer regulations on lobbying and transparency at all levels are an important contribution against the supremacy of the platform companies’ lobbying.