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28th May 2016

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Google given July deadline by EU anti-trust chief

  • EU Competition chief Joaquin Almunia has set a July deadline for search-engine Google. (Photo: European Commission)

EU competition boss Joaquin Almunia Friday (8 June) confirmed that Google has until early July to put in place changes to its business practices to avoid formal sanctions resulting from an anti-trust investigation into the company.

In a speech at the International Competition Law Forum in Switzerland, Commissioner Almunia said he wanted to give the search-engine, which holds a web market share of between 90-95% in the EU, the “opportunity to offer remedy proposals that would avoid lengthy proceedings. But he added: “By early July, I expect to receive from Google concrete signs of their willingness to explore this route.”

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If Google ignores the deadline or presents reforms deem unsatisfactory by the EU executive, Almunia warned that “formal proceedings will continue through the adoption of a Statement of Objections.”

The commissioner noted that “users and competitors would greatly benefit from a quick resolution of the case.”

Almunia also revealed that he had sent a letter to Google on 21 May stating that the Commission’s 18 month investigation indicated that Google had unfairly favoured its own search services and products against other rivals.

Eric Schmidt, chairman of Google, maintains that the company disagrees with the Commission assessment. Speaking two weeks ago at the search-engine’s Big Tent conference in the UK, Schmidt said that he was prepared to meet with the Commission but that “we disagree with any violation in general.”

The Google case threatens to be the largest single EU anti-trust case in years. Under EU Competition policy the Commission has the power to demand fines of up to 10 percent of a company’s annual turnover. Google’s revealed annual turnover figures of $485 billion for 2011. Rival software giant Microsoft has faced the largest EU anti-trust fine to date.

Meanwhile, Almunia added that the EU expects to rake in hundreds of millions in anti-trust fines. Telling delegates that the Commission levied €614 million in fines from anti-trust cases in 2011, a reduction from €2.9 billion in the previous year, the Commissioner said that he expected the figure to “pick up again this year and in the more distant future.”

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