Law­mak­ers add to Google’s woes

Add their vote for EU to con­sider break­ing up search en­gines

The Star Early Edition - - BUSINESS REPORT INTERNATIONAL - Aoife White

LAW­MAK­ERS added to Google’s reg­u­la­tory woes in the EU after they voted over­whelm­ingly for the EU to con­sider break­ing up search en­gines to bol­ster com­pe­ti­tion.

The Euro­pean Par­lia­ment backed a res­o­lu­tion by 384 votes to 174, ask­ing the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion – which is in­ves­ti­gat­ing Google for pos­si­ble an­titrust vi­o­la­tions – to con­sider “un­bundling search en­gines from other com­mer­cial ser­vices”. The mo­tion, which is not bind­ing, did not men­tion Google by name.

“Euro­pean en­ter­prises are los­ing rev­enues and peo­ple are get­ting fired,” said Ra­mon Tre­mosa, a mem­ber of the EU Par­lia­ment from Spain’s Cat­alo­nia re­gion. “Euro­pean con­sumers are not hav­ing the most per­ti­nent choice be­cause of Google’s pref­er­en­tial treat­ment to its own ser­vices.”

Google, which has a mar­ket share of more than 90 per­cent for in­ter­net search in some Euro­pean coun­tries, faces an as­sault on its business from across the bloc. It was crit­i­cised by pri­vacy reg­u­la­tors this week, tar­geted by Ger­man politi­cians who urged the EU to push on with the an­titrust probe and faces a pos­si­ble levy on in­ter­net copy­right, adding to a Span­ish law that al­lows pub­lish­ers to charge for web con­tent.

“It is very im­por­tant that the ap­pli­ca­tion of com­pe­ti­tion law in in­di­vid­ual cases re­mains in­de­pen­dent from pol­i­tics and that an­titrust pro­ce­dures are not put into ques­tion,” said Ricardo Car­doso, a com­pe­ti­tion spokesman for the com­mis­sion after the vote.

Mar­grethe Vestager, the EU’s an­titrust chief, be­lieved in­ves­ti­ga­tions should be “limited to what can be clearly iden­ti­fied as com­pe­ti­tion is­sues and that they are con­ducted in an im­par­tial way”, Car­doso said.

The pro-business lib­eral group, which said it voted against split­ting the company, said “par­lia­ment should not be en­gag­ing in anti-Google res­o­lu­tions in­spired by a heavy lobby of Google com­peti­tors”, ac­cord­ing to a state­ment.

The par­lia­ment’s plans have an­gered the US gov­ern­ment and a US-based in­dus­try group, which crit­i­cised at­tempts to in- flu­ence the EU’s four-year long an­titrust in­ves­ti­ga­tion. The Com­puter and Com­mu­ni­ca­tions In­dus­try As­so­ci­a­tion said the vote for “an ex­treme and un­work­able so­lu­tion” was “clearly de­signed to in­crease the pres­sure on Com­mis­sioner Vestager”.

Al Ver­ney, a spokesman for Google in Brussels, did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to a call and an e-mail seek­ing com­ment on the vote.

While Google has been silent on the assem­bly’s plan, it has won the support of Ger­many’s Guen­ther Oet­tinger, the EU’s dig­i­tal com­mis­sioner, who said a breakup would not hap­pen on his watch.

Split­ting Google is just one op­tion that the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion should con­sider as it de­cides what to do with an in­ves­ti­ga­tion that hits a fouryear an­niver­sary on Novem­ber 30, An­dreas Sch­wab, the ar­chi­tect of the par­lia­ment’s call, said this week.

Vestager ear­lier this month said that she would de­cide where the probe goes after she had spo­ken to com­pa­nies af­fected by Google’s be­hav­iour. Plans to set­tle the case were de­layed on neg­a­tive feed­back from ri­vals. – Bloomberg

PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Mar­grethe Vestager, the EU’s an­titrust chief.

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