European Parliament to vote on plans to break up Google

22 Nov 2014

A draft motion to separate Google’s search business from other commercial services is likely to be voted on in the European Parliament next week as a way of resolving the antitrust case against the search giant.

Google and the European Commission have been embroiled in a long and drawn-out antitrust battle with no clear resolution as of yet.

Until now the most likely outcome was that the search giant could be slapped with a fine of up to US$6bn for allegedly abusing its dominant position in the European search market.

However, it looks like the European Parliament – led by disaffected German MEPs including the new commissioner for the Digital Economy Günther Oettinger – are likely to go a step beyond any solution hitherto imagined.

A draft motion by Germany’s Andreas Schwab that was seen by the Financial Times calls for an “unbundling [of] search engines from other commercial services should be considered as a potential solution to Google’s dominance.”

The motion is backed by the European Parliament’s two main political blocs, the European People’s Party and the Socialists.

While the Parliament itself does not have the formal power to split up Google, it does have influence over the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, which initiates all EU legislation.

A vote on the motion is expected to occur this coming Thursday.

Who’s afraid of the big, bold search engine?

Much of the opposition to Google in Europe comes from German MEPs who are quite intimate with the battles German media groups, publishers and telcos have been having with Google.

In a recent case publishers, including Axel Springer said they were forced to bow down due to the market power of Google and allow the search giant display snippets and images in search results and Google News.

But pressure on Google is also coming from French and Spanish politicians on issues ranging from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden’s revelations to “Right to be Forgotten” legislation.

A settlement of the antitrust case against Google was almost reached in September but political support for the deal collapsed after “very negative” comments from complainants.

The antitrust case against Google is being backed by Microsoft, Axel Springer and other rivals who believe Google is squeezing them out of the market.

Google has not yet formally commented on the matter.

Google sign in Silicon Valley image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years