Having the voices of SMEs heard

Finance & representation gap between big & small(er) players

Big Tech and large corporations have incredible lobby firepower compared to SMEs. Let’s take a fact-based look at the current situation in the EU where digital policy is concerned. Help us draw attention to this unbalanced sphere. A sphere where big players with deep pockets seem to have a louder voice. Time to spread the word. Together, we can help SMEs cut through the noise and be heard.


Companies providing digital services play an integral role in our lives. Their influences range from how we interact with each other to the way we access information and services. Big Tech is a name given to the four or five biggest and most dominant companies in the US IT industry – Google (Alphabet), Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft. They are sometimes referred to as GAFAM. These companies have significant resources that they can devote to lobbying.

A 2021 study by Corporate Europe mapping the actors lobbying the EU’s digital economy found 612 companies, groups and business associations spending altogether € 97 million annually lobbying the EU institutions. This makes tech the biggest lobby sector in the EU by spending, ahead of pharma, fossil fuels, finance, or chemicals. Just ten companies are responsible for almost a third of the total tech lobby spend: Vodafone (€ 1,750,000), IBM (€ 1.750.000), QUALCOMM (€ 1.750.000), Intel (€ 1,750,000), Amazon (€ 2,750,000), Huawei (€ 3,000,000), Apple (€ 3,500,000), Microsoft (€ 5,250,000), Facebook (€ 5,550,000) and with the highest budget, Google (€ 5,750,000).

In 2021, the world’s largest tech companies increased their spending for lobbying activities in Brussels as discussions over new tech rules such as the Digital Services Act and Digital Markets Act were heating up.

The big companies can use this firepower to ensure their voices are heard – over countervailing and critical voices – in the debate over how to construct new rules for the digital sphere. What about the voices of smaller but equally important players? As SMEs are the backbone of the economy representing 99% of all businesses in the EU, their voices need to be heard too. Lobbying allows different groups to present their views to policymakers on legislation that is affecting or could affect their daily lives or businesses. Thus, if one group possesses a seemingly disproportionately louder voice, it could drown out the voices of others.

This campaign aims to raise awareness of the lobby firepower that Big Tech possesses compared to SMEs, based on publicly available information. We will be sharing some of the visuals on our social media so stay tuned!

In our Skills for SMEs 2030 Strategy, we define digital sovereignty as the level of autonomy in ICT-related technologies that is required to allow Europe to independently pursue its own interests. The representation of SMEs in the decision-making process will have a great impact on our digital sovereignty.

Since 2019 , most of the lobbying is focused on the Digital Services Act package, the EU’s first legislative attempt to tackle the overarching power of the mostly extra-EU Big Tech firms, potentially impacting their business models. Whereas the Digital Services Act is set to update the liability regime for online intermediaries, the Digital Markets Act will target the excessive economic and monopolistic power of the so-called gatekeepers. This package will undoubtedly affect our digital sovereignty.

At our General Assembly 2021, we discussed digital sovereignty and what it means. There were two panels, one on digital sovereignty and the other on the finance and representation gap. Learn more from the experts via the event page.


Learning more together

Information is power. There is only this much visible on the surface. For some examples of where information is lacking, read on! We are interested to hear more. If you have some insights, reports or information sources to share, please send us an email.

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According to a 2021 Transparency International report “Deep Pockets, Open Doors“, Under the European Parliament’s new meeting transparency rules, which are partly mandatory and partly voluntary, 48% of MEPs have published a total of 12,794 lobby meetings. There is no way of telling how many meetings big tech has held with the 52% of MEPs who have not declared their meetings.

Big Tech exerts its influences in different ways. Take, for instance, academia. A New Statesman investigation can reveal that over the last five years, six leading academic institutes in the EU have taken tens of millions of pounds of funding from Google, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft to research issues connected to the tech firms’ business models. These issues range from privacy and data protection to AI ethics and competition in digital markets. While this funding tends to come with guarantees of academic independence, this forms an ethical quandary where the subject of research is also often the primary funder of it. The New Statesman has also uncovered evidence of an inconsistent approach to transparency, with some senior academics failing to disclose their industry funding.

Let’s take a closer look at the iceberg together.

While the EU debated the Digital Markets Act and the Digital Services Act, forms of hidden lobbying significantly scaled up. Big Tech’s influence strategies revolved around an ecosystem of actors that use SMEs and civil society to deceive policymakers. ‘Astro-turf’ organisations sponsored by Big Tech have presented themselves as grassroots movements of citizens or small businesses. These campaigns intended to blur the political debate and sway policymakers to unintendingly support Big Tech’s interests in the final text.

In July 2022, Members of the European Parliament Christel Schaldemose, René Repasi and Paul Tang sent a letter to President Roberta Metsola requesting her to identify and ban those who “impersonate being official representatives of constituencies, such as SMEs, while at the same time put[ting] forward business interests of their funders.” In October, the same trio of MEPs submitted complaints against eight companies and lobbying groups to the EU’s lobbying database, the EU transparency register. The MEPs asked for an investigation into three Big Tech companies as well as three organizations that claim to represent small and medium-sized enterprises.


    1. Bank M., Duffy F., Leyendecker V., Silva M., The Lobby Network: Big Tech’s Web of Influence in the EU, Corporate Europe Observatory and LobbyControl e.V., Brussels and Cologne, August 2021. Available at https://corporateeurope.org/en/2021/08/lobby-network-big-techs-web-influence-eu
    2. Corporate Europe Observatory, Business lobbies dominate secret channel to influence Council, 13 July 2021. Available at https://corporateeurope.org/en/2021/07/business-lobbies-dominate-secret-channel
    3. European Commission, SME definition. Available at https://ec.europa.eu/growth/smes/sme-definition_en
    4. Kergueno R. et al., DEEP POCKETS, OPEN DOORS. Big tech lobbying in Brussels, Transparency International EU, 25 February 2021. Available at https://transparency.eu/deep-pockets-open-doors/
    5. Clarke L., Williams O., Swindells K., How Google quietly funds Europe’s leading tech policy institutes, New Statesman, 20 July 2021. Available at https://www.newstatesman.com/science-tech/big-tech/2021/07/how-google-quietly-funds-europe-s-leading-tech-policy-institutes
    6. EU Transparency Register. https://ec.europa.eu/transparencyregister/public/homePage.do?redir=false&locale=en
    7. Lombardi P., Big Tech boosts lobbying spending in Brussels, 22 March 2022. Available at https://www.politico.eu/article/big-tech-boosts-lobbying-spending-in-brussels/
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