Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei Technologies Co employs more lobbyists in the European Union (EU) than any other global tech company, as it tries to cope with increasing barriers to doing business on the continent.
The Shenzhen-based company has the full-time equivalent of 19 lobbyists on its payroll, followed by Facebook with 14 and Microsoft with 7.5, according to a report released by the Corporate Europe Observatory and Lobbycontrol on Tuesday.
However, despite bringing more lobbyists on board, Huawei still falls behind in overall lobbying spending compared with US tech giants Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Apple. The US also has more companies than anywhere else lobbying the EU on digital policy, accounting for 20 per cent of the 599 identified by the report.
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Out of all those companies, “less than 1 per cent have head offices in China or Hong Kong,” the report said. “In spite of the exponential growth of the Chinese tech market, Chinese firms have so far not invested in EU lobbying quite as heavily as their US counterparts.”
Most companies in the digital platforms and information and communications technology infrastructure industries have just one person trying to influence European digital policy.
In total, the tech sector spends 97 million euros (US$114 million) on lobbying EU institutions each year and employs 1,452 lobbyists. This is more than any other sector, including pharmaceuticals, fossil fuels, finance, and chemicals, according to the report.
Since adopting the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in 2016, EU policymakers are doubling down on regulating tech companies with two more related pieces of legislation.
Lawmakers are currently discussing the Digital Services Act and Digital Markets Act. The former targets illegal content, opaque advertising practices and disinformation, while the latter aims to curb the influence of digital platforms that behave as gatekeepers.
More than other Big Tech firms, though, Huawei has faced additional hurdles in the wake of the US-China tech war.
While in office, former US president Donald Trump successfully pressured many European countries to ban or reduce China’s involvement in domestic 5G mobile telecommunications networks. Several EU members in Central and East Europe signed joint statements or memorandums on 5G security with the US during the Trump administration, signalling tougher scrutiny for Huawei.
Since entering office in January, President Joe Biden has continued to support legislation limiting the company’s market access.
In 2019, the European Commission approved new recommendations for the cybersecurity of 5G networks, which call on member states to complete national risk assessments for 5G suppliers. The following year, the commission adopted the EU 5G Toolbox, which recommends measures to minimise exposure to high-risk suppliers and screen related foreign direct investment.
Since then, Huawei has been met with a patchwork of different approaches to the company’s 5G infrastructure deployment, with some EU members introducing legislation that could exclude Huawei altogether.
The telecoms equipment maker has also been increasing lobbying spending in the US, where it spent US$1.06 million on such efforts in the second quarter, up from US$180,000 in the previous quarter, according to financial disclosures. Huawei listed broadband and infrastructure bills as specific interests, in addition to trade and a digital privacy measure.
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