Google Inc. (GOOG) will find out within weeks whether its recent offer to European Union antitrust regulators was enough to settle an almost three-year-old EU probe into the way it operates its search services.
“This investigation started in November 2010, it has been difficult,” Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia told a conference in Florence, Italy, today. “It’s important but it cannot be prolonged forever, so we are now in the decisive weeks.”
Almunia said “time is running fast” and he will “in the coming weeks” decide whether to accept Google’s settlement offer or go forward with a formal complaint, known as a statement of objections, and ultimately adopt “a possible negative decision.”
Almunia told Bloomberg Television last week that Google had submitted a new proposal to address the European Commission’s competition concerns. A previous offer by Google in April to label its branded search services and show links to rival specialized search services was rejected as insufficient by Almunia in July.
Google rivals, including Microsoft Corp. (MSFT), have urged the EU to seek tougher concessions from the Mountain View, California-based company. Competitors and users were able to review Google’s proposed remedies the first time around and are asking the Brussels-based European Commission to market test the latest offer as well.
“Our proposal to the European Commission addresses their” areas of concern, Al Verney, a Brussels-based spokesman for Google, said by phone today. “We continue to work with the commission to settle this case.”
The first offer by Google sought to address concerns that the company promotes its own specialist search services, such as Google News and Google Finance, copies rivals’ travel and restaurant reviews, and has agreements with websites and software developers that stifle competition in the advertising industry. The latest offer by Google isn’t public.
The EU will adopt a statement of objections against Google “if we consider that the new proposals are not able to limit our concerns,” Almunia told Bloomberg Television Sept. 8.
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