The E.U.'s competition commissioner indicated Wednesday that the
company still risked big fines over the way it runs its online
Google must offer significantly more concessions to European
Union regulators to escape huge fines linked to the way it runs its
online search business, the bloc's top antitrust official warned
The comments marked the first time the European authorities have
formally said that a deal Google offered earlier this year to settle
competition issues was not acceptable. That places the onus on
Google once again to address rivals' concerns that the company's
search rankings benefit its own services.
"I concluded that the proposals that Google sent to us months ago
are not enough to overcome our concerns," Joaquin Almunia, the
European Union competition commissioner, told a news conference
Mr. Almunia said he had written to Eric E. Schmidt, the company's
executive chairman, "asking Google to present better proposals, or
In his letter, Mr. Almunia did not give Google a deadline for
offering further concessions, suggesting that the case both sides
had hoped to close later this year could continue for several more
months, said one person with direct knowledge of the contents of the
letter. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the
letter was not made public.
The European Commission, the Union's executive arm, opened a
formal inquiry into Google in 2010 on concerns that the company was
abusing its dominant position in search. The commission laid out its
main points in May 2012, and Google early this year came back with
an offer to change its practices in certain search categories,
hoping to settle the case and avoid a protracted antitrust inquiry.
Google is trying to work out a deal with Europe that would cause
the least disruption to its search business and the advertising it
generates, which accounts for much of the company's revenue.
It also wants to avoid a possible fine of as much as 10 percent
of its annual global revenue of about $50 billion and a finding of
wrongdoing that could limit its ability to expand in Europe.
The company said on Wednesday that it would "continue to work"
with the commission to settle the case. But Al Verney, a spokesman
for Google, said the package of earlier concessions "clearly
addresses their four areas of concern."
Google dominates search in Europe, controlling about 90 percent
of that market in some countries, compared with about 70 percent in
the United States.
Instead of proceeding with formal charges last year, Mr. Almunia
offered Google a chance to reach an amicable solution. But an outcry
from competitors to the deal from Google, which the commission began
reviewing in April, has put a brake on that effort.
The criticism poses problems for Mr. Almunia. The case is high-
profile, and if a settlement fails to placate Google's rivals, they
could try to unwind any agreement by suing the European Commission
at the General Court of the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. …