“The Brussels Diary With Yana Toom”: Why an American company is breaking into the European market


It is the second year of lockdowns in Europe, and the EU is disconcerted.

The number of patients is growing. The vaccines are lacking. Not everyone wants to get vaccinated. In Estonia, some people never get tired of repeating that ethnic Russians are more sceptical of vaccination than ethnic Estonians, as Russians already have their specific information field, allegedly. As journalist Anton Aleksejev has shown, the opposite is true: ethnic Russians receive information from more sources. Hence the greater confusion. And how not to get confused if the news that AstraZeneca is recommended and then not recommended for people under the age of 60 appear a couple of hours apart?

Scepticism about vaccines is a common European phenomenon. Even the fear of being microchipped by evil reptilians knows no state boundaries. As a March poll showed, about 10% of Germans and French are concerned that the vaccine contains a microchip that will change their DNA, and that all of this is part of a global conspiracy. But such people are in the minority. Basically, people are afraid of the side effects and that the vaccines have not been tested enough.

I am not an expert to judge this. However, I must say that the deal between Israel and Pfizer is thought provoking. Under the terms of the deal, Israel received a huge number of vaccines, and it was able to vaccinate 60% of its population by 2 April. But it comes at a price, as Pfizer receives data on the vaccinated, their side effects, etc. Israel has become a giant laboratory for this corporation. Moreover, there are fears that the personal data of people are falling into the wrong hands.

This danger, unlike the reptilian conspiracy theory, is very real. In early April, the British newspaper The Guardian wrote about an American company breaking into the European market. The company is called Palantir, and it is suspiciously strongly associated with the US government. So much associated that Palantir was the only private company that the EU delegation met in 2019 during a visit to Washington, D.C. The head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and the European Commissioner for Technology, Margrethe Vestager, spoke with the boss of Palantir. It is unclear what they spoke about. My colleague Sophia in ‘t Veld made a request to the European Commission, and after eight months she received very evasive answers. Sophia points out that, according to Edward Snowden, Palantir helped the US intelligence services spy on the whole world.

Meanwhile, this company operates in the EU with might and main. Just one example: last year it entered a zero-amount contract with Greece. Officially, it was about software for analysing the spread of coronavirus, but Palantir could receive large amounts of data under the contract, and the clause that this should not be any personal data was quickly deleted. Few people knew about the contract until it was divulged by (you will be surprised!) the American ambassador to Greece. A scandal erupted, and an investigation was launched. Greece ceased cooperation with the company. But other EU countries are still on friendly terms with Palantir.

By the way, the “palantir” in the Lord of the Rings trilogy is a magic ball through which the Dark Lord Sauron keeps a close watch on the characters from Mordor. It is customary for us to refer to Russia as “Mordor”, but I am afraid our landmarks here are not quite adequate. A nice bit of business, with some apt geography thrown in.