Europe's digital chief supports compromise on Google antitrust case

Plan to forge agreement with Google in competition case is controversial

Europe's digital chief is supporting efforts to compromise with Google in an antitrust case involving alleged abuse of its dominant position in the search market.

Google has been under investigation by the European Commission since November 2010 for anticompetitive practices. Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia has been criticized for trying to reach a compromise with the search giant rather than hit it with a huge fine. But Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes has decided to support an agreement, a spokesman for the commissioner said Tuesday.

Google's competitors have accused it of directing users to its own services by reducing the visibility of competing websites in search results and forging exclusive deals with advertisers, among other alleged anticompetitive actions.

Google has, in response, promised to present three rival links for every query that results in links to Google's own services. These will be separated from Google's services and will be clearly labelled. Google has also proposed, among other things, that it would remove all exclusivity obligations from advertising contracts for the next five years.

Almunia has found the proposals to be satisfactory and wrote to his fellow Commissioners on June 11, outlining why he thought so. In the communication, which was leaked to the press, he said that Google would almost certainly be monitored by Europe's competition authorities for a long time to come.

In recent weeks, more complaints about different aspects of Google's operations have been submitted to the Commission.

Despite widespread rumors that many Commissioners want stricter sanctions for Google, Kroes' spokesman said on Tuesday that Kroes definitely supports Almunia, particularly as "the longer this case remains open, the harder it is to have a wider discussion about the effects of the tech disruption on all policy and economy - the new Commission has a big job to get the digital disruption into a proper, wider frame."

Almunia said in his letter that the Google deal could still be modified. He is also on the record saying that all competition concerns related to Google cannot be handled in a single case. However with the current Commission's term running out in October, handling other antitrust concerns will almost certainly be someone else's job.

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