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Google’s super-secret EU antitrust deal already raising eyebrows

Published Feb 7th, 2014 8:45PM EST
EU-Google Search Settlement Doubts

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Google appears to have managed to avoid a costly fine in Europe where the Competition Commissioner Joaquín Almunia was investigating the company for antitrust practices related to its local Search business, after a third settlement offer was apparently accepted by the EU. However, due to the secrecy surrounding the event, several members of the European parliament (MEP) have already cast their doubts over the deal, The Register reports.

For some reason, Google competitors, consumers, MEPs and the press did not actually receive access to Google’s proposed concessions. Almunia on Wednesday said that testing the new search concessions wasn’t necessary, when asked about the absence of testing by journalists, joking that he had become an “expert” on search.

However, not all MEPs agree with Almunia, who is going to recommend to the Collage of Commissioners that the complaints against Google be rejected – the College “almost never” rejects such advice.

“How can I go back to my electorate and persuade them this is a functioning system?” Amelia Amersdotter, told the publication. “There’s no trust in European institutions – nobody likes us. This raises questions [over] whether the Commission can deal with issues vital to European markets.”

Before that, Amersdotter reminded the Commission that the “necessary critical scrutiny of the commitments Google has proposed” is due, a thought echoed by Spanish MEP Ramon Tremosa who in the past also “urged any Google proposal to be put to the test before it could be approved.” Tremosa and German MEP Andrease Schwab also reminded Almunia that if Google’s proposal failed market testing, the Commission should launch a full investigation.

Meanwhile, Almunia “reluctantly” agreed to put the second proposal up for testing, which has then been refused.

Amersdotter further believes that the Google’s deal is political, as the 27 Commissioners must resign this October, thus giving “Almunia a quick scalp – rather than doing what’s best for European consumers.”

Google rivals are also unhappy with the result, according to the publication. “We need to see the full packet, not just a screenshot from a distance,” one unnamed company said. “This is massively important for e-commerce, and it’s important for the reputation of the European Commission that this isn’t done behind closed doors.”

Almunia, meanwhile, deflected questions related to a personal relationship to Google, saying that he doesn’t remember whether he met Google Chairman Eric Schmidt two weeks ago in Davos or not. Coincidentally, Google has just rewarded Schmidt with a $100 million package in stock that will vest in the following years, the second such bonus since he stepped down as CEO of the company.

But the Commissioner did defend his decision on Friday, the same publication says, during a discussion with journalists in London. “I cannot understand some voices that have been involved in previous Article 9 commitment decisions, that now appear [to suggest] that a commitment decision is not an antitrust decision,” said Almunia. “I cannot understand this.”

Almunia added that Microsoft has been involved in a similar case in the past. “Microsoft, four years ago, was participating in a commitment decision, afterwards it breached the commitments and received a fine,” Almunia said today. The Windows maker broke a 2009 deal with the EU to show browser choices in its operating system, but removed the choice in 2011, with the move having been discovered only 17 months thereafter. Microsoft had to pay a €561 million fine following the incident.

Without disclosing what they are Almunia said that Google’s newly proposed concessions have eliminated the EU’s concerns. “We have other aspects that are being looked at regarding Google in the antitrust domain and other domains,” he added.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.