Pledging to put competitive concerns over a speedy resolution, new EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager said this week that she will meet with Google's competitors as part of an ongoing effort to resolve the search firm's long-running antitrust case. Vestager also indicated that the EU would limit the current case to the issues at hand and not allow it to spread to other areas of potential abuse.
"The sheer amount of data controlled by Google gives rise to a series of societal challenges," a public statement by the EU commissioner reads. "Privacy is one of the most pressing concerns. Media pluralism is another. Not all of these challenges are primarily economic in nature and not all of them are competition related. So many of the Google related concerns voiced in the public debate cannot be addressed in our investigations into the company's alleged anti-competitive practices. We will have to limit ourselves to what we identify as competition problems."
Former EU competition commissioner Joaquin Almunia was criticized for offering Google and sweetheart settlement deal that precluded formal antitrust charges, and then wasted years while Google submitted several ineffectual proposals. After slipstreaming Google's final proposal through the approval process so that he could declare victory before his term ended, Almunia was embarrassed when fellow antitrust regulators in Europe demanded that he force Google to actually address the issues raised by the inquiry. So Mr. Almunia left office with the deal, and his legacy, in tatters.
Commissioner Vestager has pledged to do the right thing. And the first step, she says, is to meet with the Google competitors who are most directly impacted by Google's illegal business practices.
"To decide how to take our investigations forward, I need to know what those most directly affected by the practices in question have to say," Vestager's public statement notes. "I need to have a representative sample of views of those concerned. Also, we are talking about fast moving markets – I have to be sure that we have all the facts up to date to get it right. In short, the issues at stake in our investigations have a big potential impact on many players, they are multifaceted and complex."
Adding that she will "need some time to decide on the next steps," Vestager is sending the message that she will not be steamrolled by Google—or its competitors—into coming up with a quick resolution. It's a not-so-subtle rebuke of her predecessor.
The Google antitrust case dates back to 2010. But it is only one of several such cases that the firm may face in the EU, which is separately investigating Android and other search-related complaints. Margrethe Vestager will oversee these cases as well.