Summary:

Internet companies spend a lot of money lobbying governments to try and get what they want — and nowhere is the picture more complex than Europe. Here’s a quick look at who pulls the strings at federal and national levels.

Euro votes Shutterstock/Mopic
photo: Mopic/Shutterstock

In the last few years, lobbying by web giants like Google and Facebook has increased dramatically on both sides of the Atlantic. As noted by the Financial Times, Facebook’s spending in Washington trebled in 2012 — and similar expansion has also been seen in Europe. That’s no surprise, perhaps: with COO Sheryl Sandberg intimately familiar with the way power works, both from her time with the Department of the Treasury and then at Google.

There’s an obvious reason they’re concentrating their energies, too. Technology companies are incredibly powerful, which draws a lot of attention, and a lot of anger in many cases. Unfriendly administrations can be powerful enemies: from Microsoft’s drawn-out conflict with European officials — effectively running for 20 years — to the vast fines levied on companies like Intel who break competition rules, conflict with governments can be costly and distracting. So what better way to try and smooth the path than try to head off that conflict earlier in the process?

But lobbying is furtive, and tends to happen behind closed doors: only dragged into the open when big issues emerge, such as the recent furore over American tech companies paying little or no tax in the U.K.. The European Commission does run a transparency register that companies are meant to report for, but the truth is that many — including, for example, Apple — have not signed up. Shouldn’t the extent of lobbying be more visible?

What follows is a short overview to some of the power players working to influence Brussels, or other governments in Europe, on behalf of the world’s big internet and hi-tech companies. It’s not meant to be comprehensive — there are lots of companies missing, and lots of individuals not named. But consider it more of a starting place: If you know more lobbyists, and their roles, then please leave them in the comments. Eventually, maybe, we can produce a map of their activities.

Google

Google has one of the most complex European lobbying operations among Internet companies. It operates a significant team in Brussels, but also has staff in most other major European capitals — including Berlin, where it opened a new office housing seven lobbyists. Their job? To try and influence the German government over issues like privacy and copyright, where it is far stricter than most other nations.

Key players:

Antoine Aubert, head of Google’s Brussels policy team, is listed in the transparency register as the liaison between EU and Mountain View. He is a policy wonk who previously spent three years working for the Commission itself.

Simon Hampton, GoogleSimon Hampton, the company’s director of public policy in Europe, is a former AOL and Time Warner policy chief. He took up the role with Google four years ago, which he describes on his LinkedIn profile like this: “His team of 45 evangelise the economic and social potential of the Internet, and work on the regulatory agenda to help Europe tap the full opportunities of the Internet.” The transparency register claims seven people working at European level.

Annette Kroeber-Riel, European policy counsel, heads up the German lobbying effort, which has built a network of operations, including think tanks and a research institute. Her background includes VeriSign and Jamba! (the company behind Crazy Frog, which was notorious Samwer brothers).

Peter Fleischer, global privacy counsel based in Paris, is a long-time hand at the company who works on international policy efforts around data and privacy. Largely operating behind the scenes, Fleischer’s profile was raised when he was one of those named, tried and convicted in an Italian court over a YouTube video of a boy being bullied. (The ruling was overturned just before Christmas.)

Sarah Hunter, head of UK public policy, was a senior policy adviser to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Facebook

Erika Mann, FacebookFacebook’s rocket-like trajectory in the last few years has rapidly increased its interaction with governments — rarely positive — and it is staffing up its lobbying efforts to reflect that. It seems keen to pick those with inside knowledge of the system gained from active political positions, rather than from the academic or bureaucratic side like most of its peers.

Key players:
Erika Mann, managing director of public policy (pictured) has helped build Facebook’s Belgian lobbying engine since joining in 2011, but knows Europe very well: the German was a Member of the European Parliament for 15 years.

Richard Allan, the director of policy in Europe, also has political ties. He spent eight years as a Member of Parliament in Britain (and then acted as campaign manager for Nick Clegg, the current Deputy Prime Minister) and sits in the House of Lords after being made a Baron in 2010. Before moving to Facebook in 2009, he worked as a lobbyist for Cisco.

Apple

Jaymeen Patel, AppleApple is one of those companies which has no presence in the transparency register, but clearly has a lobbying operation in Brussels. Steve Jobs himself was known to join meetings with European officials, and EC documents show he took part to get regulatory approval of Europe-wide pricing for iTunes. Still, its lobby effort does seem underpowered compared to rivals like Google.

Key players:

Claire Thwaites, director of Apple’s EMEIA government affairs previously helped lead Vodafone lobbying in Brussels and Washington.

Jaymeen Patel, senior government affairs manager (pictured), is another telecoms veteran, with five years at Telefonica.

Amazon

Andrew Cecil, AmazonAmazon is one of a number of American technology companies that is lobbying Brussels in order to weaken restrictions on data collection. It is not listed in the joint transparency register. And yet it does have a Brussels presence to help try and secure itself a good deal across the single market.

Key players:

Andrew Cecil (pictured) has been Amazon’s director of public policy in Brussels since 2009, after he jumped from the same role at Yahoo!. Became temporarily notorious for refusing to answer a range of questions when when giving evidence to British MPs over Amazon’s tax avoidance strategies.

Saskia Horsch, the company’s senior public policy manager, previously worked for the European Casino Association.

Microsoft

Unsurprisingly, Microsoft has put a vast amount of effort into Europe over the years. according to the transparency register, it currently has 17 lobbyists working in Brussels, spending at least €4.5 million ($6 million) last year — though experts suggest that few companies accurately report their true lobbying spend.

At a national level, it operates governmental lobbying of various kinds — such as warning the British government over the adoption of open standards. And it has also funneled some of its lobbying effort through Burston Marsteller, the PR consultancy: opposing the purchase of DoubleClick by Google in 2007, for example.

John Vassalo, MicrosoftJohn Vassallo, a former Maltese ambassador to Europe, has been vice president of EU Affairs for more than four years. He also worked in a similar position for General Electric.

Stephen Collins, the head of EU policy, recently gave evidence to British parliament over plans for a new communications bill.

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