Commission to 'finish the job soon' on Google antitrust case

The EU's mobilisation against Silicon Valley is not part of an anti-US agenda, says Ramon Tremosa i Balcells.

By Jon Benton

Jon Benton is Political Engagement Manager at The Parliament Magazine

02 Mar 2015

As the European parliament's rapporteur on the EU's competition policy annual report in 2013, Ramon Tremosa i Balcells has a great deal of experience in dealing with issues of market competitiveness. More recently, he has been applying this knowledge to his work on the Google antitrust investigation on parliament's behalf, reporting on it and keenly observing negotiations between the European commission and Google . In this role, he has worked with German EPP MEP Andreas Schwab to draft legislative proposals to resolve the case.

With the changeover in commission, Ramon Tremosa I Balcells believes that there is renewed momentum in the case, and the new European competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager will be able to "finish the job soon". He also hopes that "this spring the commission will have a new approach to this case".

So far, he feels that Google has not taken the investigation seriously enough, saying, "Google has had opportunities", but the digital giant has failed to cooperate properly in resolving the dispute over the display of search engine results.

Tremosa warns that "unbundling of the search engine business from the rest could be needed", though he hopes that the threat of this is something "Google will act on".

The Google antitrust case was reopened last year by the new European commission under Jean-Claude Juncker, with a view that resolving of the dispute will be a key issue in the development of the EU digital single market.

The case began five years ago, after the commission received complaints that the US tech giant was exploiting its monopoly of the search engine market to promote its own services ahead of competitors in services such as online flight booking.

The previous European competition commissioner Joaquín Almunia failed to agree a solution with Google regarding the displaying of results on three separate occasions; meanwhile the company has continued to strengthen its position in Europe - currently representing more than 90 per cent of the search engine market.

"Google has a monopoly in the EU and has more than 90 per cent of market share"

To tackle what has become a dominant force in Europe, Tremosa argues that, "Only with a strong position and tools from the commission will Google really move".

Talks between the commission and the complainants resumed in January, as commissioner Vestager has sought to gain a better understanding of the situation, while also consulting with non-complainant companies.

"It is good that the new commissioner is receiving information from other companies that are not complaining", says Tremosa, who also welcomes the inclusion of US companies in assisting with the case, such as Microsoft, which went through a similar investigation a decade ago.

The commission's handling of the dispute with Microsoft, according to Tremosa, has been the model to which the EU has followed in its engagement with Google. "Four different fines in the last nine years were imposed on Microsoft, because it broke the level playing field, therefore it was important to restore it", he explains.

"I think it is significant that an American company [Microsoft] is cooperating in this case as well. This is not about competition between the US and the EU but about creating a fairer market", he adds.

That being said, Tremosa believes that the US government and American corporations view the ongoing dispute between the EU and Google as part of an anti-American agenda, but stresses, "this is not the case".

However, last November, "Google mobilised American politicians and media to contact EU leaders" regarding non-binding resolutions and the possibility of unbundling, according to Tremosa, who notes, "I think next month, the American media will focus on it again", following a plenary vote on tougher action towards Google.

"Only with a strong position and tools from the commission will Google really move"

US president Barack Obama has since weighed in on the issue during a visit to Silicon Valley, saying, "In defence of Google and Facebook, sometimes the European response here is more commercially driven than anything else. We have owned the internet. Our companies have created it, expanded it, and perfected it in ways that they can't compete".

In response to this criticism, Tremosa, explains, "President Obama forgets or maybe isn't aware that among the dozens of complainants in the Google antitrust case, there are several US companies. Some companies, like Yelp, have no problem going public. Others don't want to attack Google openly because they fear retaliation measures, such as demotion/exclusion and penalties supposedly applied by Google to some rival companies".

In addition, he warns, "Google has a monopoly in the EU and has more than 90 per cent of market share", highlighting that the search engine giant's monopoly cannot be ignored. Tremosa reveals that to address this hegemony, parliament's latest annual competition policy report features "paragraphs giving a mandate to the commission to come up with a solution".

Recently, the European parliament's economic and monetary affairs committee adopted this report with 51 votes in favour and only two against, while a vote on a resolution that will give the commission a mandate to act will be held in plenary in later this month.



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