22 Nov 2014: The European parliament is reportedly poised to call for a break-up of Google in a drastic escalation of Europeâ€™s long-running antitrust case against the tech giant.
A draft motion seen by the Financial Times, and expected to be agreed next week, calls for the â€œunbundling [of] search engines from other commercial servicesâ€ as a potential solution to Googleâ€™s dominance of the search market in Europe.
The European Commission has been investigating concerns that Google has abused its dominant position in search since 2010 and the dispute has become increasingly bitter. In September the EUâ€™s incoming digital commissioner GÃ¼nther Oettinger warned that any settlement with Google could â€œcement its strength in the market rather than diluting itâ€.
German, French and Spanish politicians have attacked the company over a variety of issues including revelations from National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden and â€œright to be forgottenâ€ legislation that allows people to delete information from search results.
JoaquÃn Almunia, then the EUâ€™s competition commissioner, rejected Googleâ€™s third attempt to settle the antitrust case in September after political support for the deal collapsed. He reopened the inquiry after â€œvery, very negativeâ€comments from complainants.
His successor, Margrethe Vestager, has told the European Parliament she will â€œneed some time to decide on the next stepsâ€ in the case.
Sigmar Gabriel, Germanyâ€™s economy minister and vice-chancellor, suggested a break-up of the company in May but suggested regulation was a better move. â€œWe must give serious thought to the possibility of â€˜unbundlingâ€™ the internet market, in a similar way to the electricity and gas networks,â€ Gabriel wrote in an op-ed published in German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
The case against Google is being backed by rival Microsoft, which faced its own antitrust suits in the 1990s, German publisher Axel Springer and a host of smaller rivals that claim Google is squeezing them out of the market.
â€œWe are afraid of Google,â€ Mathias DÃ¶pfner, chief executive of Axel Springer wrote in an open letter to Eric Schmidt, Googleâ€™s executive chairman. â€œI must state this very clearly and frankly, because few of my colleagues dare do so publicly.â€ He pointed out that Google a 91.2% share of the search-engine market in Germany. He called for restrictions on the company and warned Schmidt the company could â€œwin yourself to deathâ€.
Oettinger has already made suggested remedies for Googleâ€™s alleged dominance including mandated changes to search results. A public call for a break-up would be the most far-reaching action proposed to date. But the European parliament lacks the authority to force a break-up of a company and any such proposal would meet stiff opposition from Google and the US.
Google was not immediately available for comment.