Google's Schmidt meets EU antitrust regulator amid objection rumors

Reports claim the EU is to hit Google hard with objections in the new year

Google's Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt met with the European Union's antitrust commissioner on Monday amid rumors that the Internet search giant will be hit with major objections by the European Commission early next year.

The Commission is currently assessing complaints that Google abused its dominant market position and, according to a report in the Financial Times, plans "to slam Google with a 400+ page" statement of objections. The objections would consist of a list of points outlining possible infractions of antitrust laws. The list of objections could be followed by sanctions and fines if Google can't reach an agreement with the Commission on its conduct.

However, sources in the Commission said that this report was based on what a third party expects to happen and is not the official position of the Commission.

The global search engine giant faces allegations that it prevents smaller competitors from generating advertising revenue. The Commission has spent almost two years trying to determine whether Google's algorithm unfairly penalizes rival companies.

The complaints were lodged by French search engine eJustice.fr and the U.K.-based Foundem in early 2010 and regulators extended the case into a full investigation in November last year. Meanwhile Google sources claimed that its international rival, Microsoft, had a hand in two of the original complaints.

Google is likely to want the investigation brought to a swift resolution. The regulators' investigation into a similar antitrust complaint against Microsoft took more than 10 years to resolve and Schmidt said earlier this year that the company has no stomach for such a lengthy legal battle.

Competition Commissioner Joaquín Almunia stressed that his meeting with Schmidt was not to discuss the case in detail. "This is not a meeting to negotiate anything," he said added that he was "very keen to exchange views."

Google spokesman Al Verney also downplayed the significance of the meeting: "We frequently meet with policy makers and regulators around the world. We're always happy to discuss issues affecting our industry and explain how our business works."

However behind closed doors "Google's confuse-and-conquer strategy has been unraveling for over a year," said Foundem CEO Shivaun Raff. "Schmidt's recent public testimony and written answers to the U.S. Senate Antitrust Subcommittee provide the first public glimpse of the extent to which Google's paper-thin defense crumbles in the face of informed scrutiny."

The Commission can fine companies up to 10 percent of their global turnover for breaching E.U. rules and well as imposing conditions on how they run their businesses.

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