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Published On: Mon, Nov 24th, 2014

Google facing threats from EU over anti-competitive behaviour

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European Union MEPs seeking to combat what they consider anti-competitive behaviour by Google are considering calling for the breaking up of companies that focus on web search, according to a document prepared by members of the European Parliament.

One draft asks regulators to tackle what it says are abusive practices by the internet search provider.

The European Commission should “consider proposals with the aim of unbundling search engines from other commercial services” to aid Europe’s digital industry, according to another draft resolution prepared by members of the European People’s Party.

Discrimination allegations

Google, which has more than 90 per cent of the search market in many European countries, is facing threats to its business, including a possible internet copyright levy, that add to a lengthy EU anti-trust investigation into allegations that it discriminates against rivals.

MEPs Andreas Schwab and Ramon Tremosa this week called for legislation if the EU can’t resolve its investigation.

“This motion, especially if passed by parliament, threatens to undermine the credibility of a long-running commission investigation by blatantly interjecting politics into a legal process,” Ed Black, the head of the Washington DC-based computer and communications industry association, said in a statement. “Such a politicisation is ‘deeply troubling.’’

MEPs from the People’s Party and liberal groups plan to ask the entire assembly to vote on Wednesday on the resolution. The final draft of their text must still be negotiated.

While the version citing Google doesn’t specifically ask for Google to be broken up, it does ask regulators to “act decisively on all concerns” given Google’s high market share.

The draft urges EU anti-trust regulators to agree only to concessions by the company that “immediately and unequivocally” prevent it from discriminating against rivals. It also asks for users to be shown search results that are “best for them, rather than best for Google.”

The document says the EU should send anti-trust objections to the company, a move that can lead to fines unless there’s a settlement.

Competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager, will decide how to take the Google investigation forward once she’s heard from “those most directly affected,” said her spokesman Ricardo Cardoso.

Key players

“Search engines are key players in the development” of the European economy, Mr Cardoso said. “We are committed to ensuring fair competition in the markets they are active in.”

Google, declined to comment.

Google has made several attempts to settle the EU case since the EU opened a formal investigation in 2010. So far the commission hasn’t deemed any of its proposals acceptable after consulting with companies that complained about Google’s behaviour in the search market.

While the parliament doesn’t have the power to compel regulators to propose legislation or alter their anti-trust investigation, it can amend laws it is examining. MEPs used this to curb banker bonuses and increase capital requirements for banks in 2010.

– Bloomberg

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