EU Court’s Google ruling highlights urgency of need to tackle monopoly position of ‘Big Tech’ say MEPs

European Parliament lawmakers back EU Executive’s antitrust crackdown

By Andreas Rogal

Andreas Rogal is a senior journalist at the Parliament Magazine

11 Nov 2021

On Tuesday, the General Court of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) dismissed “for the most part” the action brought by Google, and its parent company, Alphabet against the European Commission in what is known as the ‘Google Shopping’ case.

Tiemo Wölken (DE, S&D), author of one of Parliament’s own-initiative reports drafted in preparation for the Digital Services Act (DSA), simply tweeted “1:0”, with an EU flag on the left and a magnifying glass emoji on the right as his comment on the verdict.

Evelyne Gebhardt, the S&D Group’s shadow rapporteur for the Digital Markets Act (DMA) told the Parliament Magazine that “today’s ruling has shown how urgently we need clear rules that tackle the monopoly position of Big Tech”.

The German Social Democrat added “as legislators, we have to protect citizens’ choice and access to essential infrastructure to ensure that digital markets remain open and fair”.

The ruling is also a clear victory for European Commission Vice-President Margrethe Vestager and the Directorate General she led during the last legislature, dealing with competition in the Single Market.

They had recently been not as successful as they had wished in front of the General Court, when their state aid case against Apple’s tax provisions in Ireland was dismissed a year ago.

An appeal by the Commission is pending. In the Google Shopping case, the court had ruled in the EU Executive’s favour initially, but the company appealed.

"Today’s ruling has shown how urgently we need clear rules that tackle the monopoly position of Big Tech... as legislators, we have to protect citizens’ choice and access to essential infrastructure to ensure that digital markets remain open and fair” Evelyne Gebhardt, S&D Group’s shadow rapporteur for the Digital Markets Act (DMA)

Explaining its decision in a press release, the court stated that Google had indeed, as the Commission had argued, “abused its dominant position on the market for online general search services in 13 countries in the European Economic Area, by favouring its own comparison shopping service, a specialised search service, over competing comparison shopping services”.

While stressing that the anti-competitive behaviour only concerned the market for shopping services, not the overall market for search engines, as the Commission had claimed, the EGC still ordered the tech giant to address the problems identified in the case.

Google/Alphabet claims it has done so already but smaller comparison shopping platforms question this.

And, crucially, the EGC upheld the €2.4bn anti-trust fine imposed by the Commission in 2017, regardless of further appeals.

Parliament’s DMA rapporteur Andreas Schwab (EPP), also welcomed the verdict as justice being done saying, “Google has violated fair competition with its shopping platform, and has not only damaged European companies, but also other online shopping platforms by deliberately downgrading their offers compared to its own”.

The German Christian Democrat added that, “with the Digital Markets Act (DMA), we will ensure that, in future, the European Commission can intervene before such enormous damage is done”.

"Google has violated fair competition with its shopping platform, and has not only damaged European companies, but also other online shopping platforms by deliberately downgrading their offers compared to its own. With the Digital Markets Act (DMA), we will ensure that, in future, the European Commission can intervene before such enormous damage is done” Andreas Schwab (EPP) rapporteur for the Digital Markets Act (DMA)

There are currently two more antitrust investigations by the Commission against Google/Alphabet ongoing, and the verdict will have boosted the moral of the competition teams working on them.

European broadcaster Euronews quoted a spokesperson as stating that "the Commission will continue to use all tools at its disposal to address the role of big digital platforms on which businesses and users depend to, respectively, access end users, and access digital services."

Equally looking to the future was the Green/EFA Group’s Sven Giegold (DE) who said: “In order to ensure fair competition in the digital economy over the long term, we have to regulate the platforms consistently”.

He concluded that “it is a central task for the upcoming EU laws on platform regulation to contain any distortion of competition, and to draw the right consequences from the monopoly positions of digital giants."

Google/Alphabet can still appeal before the higher court of the CJEU, the European Court of Justice (ECJ). In an initial statement, the company said that it would review the judgement.

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