Why US tech lobbyists have descended on Brussels

The European Parliament.

 Joe McNamee, executive director of European Digital Rights.

Brussels is home to the European Parliament, but it's also hosting lots of lobbyists for the U.S. tech industry.

Walk down the street near Parliament and you'll see office blocks that are home to lobbyists representing the likes of Facebook, Google, and other tech companies. 

They've set up shop because many U.S. tech companies oppose strict new online privacy legislation that members of the European parliament are considering. 

"It's gotten a bit out of hand. Very, very emotional," says Jean-Marc Leclerc, director of the digital economy policy group for a trade association called Digital Europe. Among its members: Apple and Microsoft. 

Leclerc says there were "thousands of amendments, night votes. It really went crazy."

Why was it so crazy? The EU is considering an online privacy bill that would give consumers the right to have personal data erased. There would also be new limits on online profiling. 

The tech lobby says the legislation would hurt commerce and innovation on the Web, and would also create mandatory data reporting requirements that would be a burden for business.

But all this tech lobbying leaves privacy advocates in Brussels feeling outgunned.

"I think it's the second biggest center of lobbying in the world outside Washington, D.C.," says Joe McNamee, executive director of European Digital Rights.

He says members of the European Parliament don't quite know what to make of the U.S. tech lobby muscle: "It was quite new in the European context and policy makers in the European Parliament were taken by surprise."

Some members of Parliament say they understand U.S. tech companies have to lobby here because they have a lot at stake.

"I think it's inevitable that business will lobby," says Claude Moraes, a member of the European Parliament representing London. 

He says bring it on. We're not naive. We can handle it. But he does draw a line. Moraes says some of the 4,000 amendments to the privacy legislation were taken word-for-word from lobbyists.

"There were certainly accusations of amendments being cut and pasted and I think that's where the line is crossed," he says.

Moraes can expect even more lobbying this fall, when members of the European Parliament return from their summer break to continue working on the online privacy legislation. Final votes aren't expected until next spring.


Graphic by Shea Huffman/Marketplace

About the author

Nancy Marshall-Genzer is a senior reporter for Marketplace based in Washington, D.C. covering daily news.

 Joe McNamee, executive director of European Digital Rights.

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