After charging Google, EU antitrust chief declares independence

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Brussels | Updated: April 17, 2019 12:50:11 PM

Google boss Eric Schmidt might have missed it in the uproar over the EU's antitrust charges against the US tech giant...

Google, Eric Schmidt, eu antitrust law, eu antitrust law google, EU antitrust charges, European Union, European Competition Commission, Margrethe VestagerGoogle boss Eric Schmidt might have missed it in the uproar over the EU’s antitrust charges against the U.S. tech giant, but European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager wants to congratulate him. (Reuters)

Google boss Eric Schmidt might have missed it in the uproar over the EU’s antitrust charges against the U.S. tech giant, but European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager wants to congratulate him.

It was a throwaway line in an hour-long press conference in Brussels as Vestager moved dramatically against Google a day ahead of her first big working visit to the United States. The EU accused Google of abusing its dominance of Internet searches to push its own products.

But Vestager’s praise for the innovative Californian company’s hugely popular services echoed a mantra of fairness and independence from political and corporate lobbying on all sides. The 47-year-old Dane has clung to that mantra since becoming competition commission in November – a job that makes her among the most powerful figures in global business, with a power she now seems determined to exercise across many issues.

“My kids or myself never consider for a minute this is a U.S. company or a European company. The reason we use it is that     Google has very good products,” said Vestager, who moved in under six months to a prosecution that her predecessor eschewed for five years, much to the fury of some big EU governments.

“It’s in our language. If you look for something you say, ‘Let me Google it’. … I think you should congratulate a company that is so successful.”

It was a message that seemed aimed at those who rejoiced on Wednesday at Google’s comeuppance, whether across the political spectrum in Germany, France and other EU states dismayed by the way Americans have eclipsed Europe in the new century’s industrial revolution, or among Google’s U.S. rivals, which have been among the most persistent campaigners for its punishment.

“Dominance as such is not a problem. Not in general and not under EU law,” Vestager said, stressing that she for one has no great problem with Google’s 90 percent share of EU web searches and that she was open to persuasion that penalties were not required.

THE MORE THE FUSS, THE MORE THE FOCUS
In a cool performance, alternating charm and combativeness, Vestager, a liberal former Danish economy minister, dismissed suggestions she was dancing to the tune of Germany – the EU’s largest economy – and scoffed at the thought she might ever meet U.S. President Barack Obama, who accused the EU of tech protectionism this year.

“The more politics around the case, the more we have to stay on track when it comes to facts,” she said, six weeks after having met Google’s executive chairman, Schmidt, to hear his views.

Google rejected her accusations. It said it has contributed to the growth of small businesses and competitors and was less  dominant in new-style mobile services — arguments that helped fend off an investigation by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, whose chairwoman, Edith Ramirez, Vestager will meet in Washington on Thursday.

The company may hope the EU commissioner is true to her word in resisting the anti-Americanism prevalent in parts of Europe and anti-Google sentiment among U.S. rivals. But as she settles in for a five-year mandate and a string of other high-profile cases, Vestager appears confident she can avoid disappointing expectations that she will oblige Google to compromise, either through a settlement or, ultimately, via victory in the courts.

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