EU Antitrust Chief Keeps Open Mind on Next Steps in Google Case

  • Vestager says she's still examining responses to EU complaint
  • Google criticized parts of EU case as peculiar and problematic

The European Union’s antitrust chief shrugged off Google’s attack on EU allegations that the search-engine company abused its monopoly power, saying she hasn’t made up her mind on how the probe will play out.

Margrethe Vestager said her staff in the European Commission is analyzing Google’s highly critical response to a statement of objections “with an open mind.”

“What we do now is that we dig into the Google response” and listen to comments from complainants, Vestager told journalists in a briefing at her Brussels office on Wednesday. The Google response “is a substantial piece of work” and even with EU’s resources “it will still take some time before we’re done with it.”

Twelve months into her job, Vestager has to decide on the next steps in the EU’s five-year antitrust battle with Google. The Mountain View, California-based company described demands in the EU statement of objections as “peculiar and problematic.” The EU accused the tech company of “positioning and displaying more favorably, in its general search result pages, its own comparison-shopping service.”

EU ‘Misunderstanding’

Google, owned by Alphabet Inc., sent its response to the commission in August, calling the allegations “factually, legally and economically wrong,” according to a redacted version sent to the company’s critics over the last week and seen by Bloomberg. The commission’s analysis is “based on a misunderstanding of the technology industry,” according to Google.

“The theory on which the SO’s preliminary concerns rest is so ambiguous that the commission itself concluded three times that the concerns have been resolved,” Google said according to the confidential document. “But the SO now asks for remedies that are different and had been previously rejected by the commission itself.”

The EU’s patience with Google ran out after three settlement bids failed to satisfy critics, who said the owner of the world’s most-used search engine was wielding its power over results to unfairly promote its own services and paid ads. The EU has been formally probing allegations since 2010 that Google abused its market power by promoting its own services above others and deterring advertisers from going to rivals.

How the case will end remains “still open,” Vestager said.

“There is no decision yet, on our side at least, as to how it should end,” she told journalists. “We try to make sure that we formally do as we’re supposed to do, to finalize the case also with a formal decision if that were the case.”

Al Verney, a spokesman for Google in Brussels, declined to comment.

Vestager took over the Google probe from predecessor, Joaquin Almunia, who had sought to finalize a settlement with Google by the end of his tenure. Under the stalled deal, the EU would have accepted Google’s concessions and dropped the probe without levying any fines.

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