Google Settlement Is Defended by EU’s Almunia After Criticism

May 23, 2014 1:57 pm ET

May 23 (Bloomberg) -- The European Union’s antitrust chief defended plans to settle a three-year antitrust probe into Google Inc. following concerns raised by French and German ministers.

“I think the proposals put on the table by Google at the start of the year could resolve” antitrust concerns, EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said in the May 20 letter that was released today. “I can assure you that the commission possesses all the elements necessary to evaluate Google’s proposals in a neutral and objective manner.”

German and French publishers are among dozens of companies that have complained to the EU about Google. The Mountain View, California-based company is under scrutiny in Europe over issues ranging from taxes to an EU court ruling last week that said Google may have to delete links to personal information.

German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel and France’s economy and digital minister Arnaud Montebourg sent Almunia a letter on May 16 criticizing the Google settlement. The Wall Street Journal reported earlier today that agreement faces increasing opposition and could be revised.

Concerns over net neutrality, data protection and taxation are beyond the scope of an antitrust investigation, Almunia said in the letter, which responded to the ministers’ plea for Almunia to reconsider a settlement.

Al Verney, a spokesman for Google in Brussels, declined to comment.

Avoid Fines

Almunia has said he plans to reject opposition to the settlement from rivals, including Microsoft Corp., saying competition concerns are satisfied by a pledge from Google to show links to other companies next to its own specialized services. The agreement will see Google dodge EU fines and any finding that it discriminated against competitors.

Almunia said the EU is separately weighing whether to open a formal probe into Google’s Android mobile operating system.