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Who blinks first? EU's threat to charge Google over antitrust issues is mostly bluff

Gregg Keizer | Jan. 2, 2014
The European Union antitrust chief's threat that Google significantly sweeten its proposal or face formal charges of discriminating against rivals in its search results is largely a bluff, a legal expert said.

Although Almunia denied that sanctions are inevitable, he said the hourglass is running out. "At this moment, there is little time left, but the ball is still in Google's court," Almunia said last week.

If Google is formally charged, a lengthy process will begin that could result in fines as large as $5 billion.

That's unlikely. Almunia has staked his reputation on reaching settlements with corporations accused of anti-competitive practices, arguing that faster resolutions, not drawn-out legal battles, better serve European consumers, especially in quick-changing technology markets.

Almunia's stance has been very different from his predecessor, Neelie Kroes, who was much more confrontational. Kroes led a years-long action against Microsoft that ended in the American company paying billions in fines for past behavior.

It's time, said Petit, for Almunia to prove that his strategy is viable.

"Almunia has been bragging everywhere about the virtues of settlements, and more generally of fast antitrust enforcement in high-tech markets," said Petit. "He is now bound to make something out of this case before the end of his term."

To do so, however, means he will have to take the Statement of Objections option off the table.

"He won't [file official charges]," said Petit. "If nothing has come in June it will be too late."

 

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