The European Parliament filed a draft motion aimed at splitting Google’s search engine from its other commercial services. The motion could come up for a vote this month, though the move is largely seen as a way to put political pressure on the new European Commission to take some sort of action against the company that would satisfy Google’s competitors.
As a tech association with a long commitment to sound competition policy, the increased politicization of the Google competition investigation is deeply troubling. We have often sided with EU and U.S. competition authorities in support of vigorous enforcement even when focused on our industry’s companies when the facts and law justified action. It potentially undermines the legitimacy of competition law if it is seen merely as another tool to be manipulated by special pleading and used for protectionist and political ends.
Competition investigations are legal proceedings that should be decided on the facts and the law. This motion, especially if passed by Parliament, threatens to undermine the credibility of a long running Commission investigation by blatantly interjecting politics into a legal process.
Even though this motion is clearly directed at one company, the approach taken in this motion — and the politics surrounding the Google competition case in general — has wider implications and threatens the entire Internet economy. Furthermore, it also harms the European economy by limiting its ability to fully harness and benefit from digital innovation and creative enterprises.
If incumbents in legacy industries can use their political advantages to affect a supposedly independent legal proceeding against a disruptive Internet company such as as Google, then it will encourage similar proceedings against other companies in the future.
A Wall Street Journal article quoting CCIA vice president Dan O’Connor described the politics this way:
“In recent months, politicians in Germany and France have called on the EU to take a harder line on Google, backed in large part by German publishers but including as well those fearful of Google’s expansion into new areas like self-driving cars.
“There’s been a lot of politicalization of this in Europe, but this is even more extreme than I could have imagined,” said Dan O’Connor.”