Nonbinding Decision Pressures EU Commission as it Probes Google’s Search Practices
The European Parliament overwhelmingly approved a resolution that calls for a possible breakup of Google Inc., brushing aside last-minute objections from the U.S. Congress that the move risked politicizing an antitrust investigation.
While the initiative has no binding power on the European Commission, the bloc’s top antitrust regulator, it highlights the growing political resistance in Europe to the power of the U.S. search engine giant, which has a European market share of over 90%, far higher than its share in the U.S.
In a vote in Strasbourg, 384 legislators voted in favor of the controversial initiative, with 174 against and 56 abstentions. Lawmakers rejected a last-minute amendment by the liberal party bloc that would have dropped a key clause calling for a possible “unbundling” of search engines from other services they may offer.
“Clear adoption by the EP of Digital Single Market motion, including unbundling for search engine if needed,” tweeted Ramon Tremosa I Balcells, a lawmaker from Spain who backed the proposal.
The vote comes as the European Union grapples with how to rewrite the rules for its digital sector and support local firms in a market that is dominated by U.S. companies. On Wednesday, EU privacy regulators called on search engines to widen the bloc’s new right-to-be-forgotten rules to all of their websites, escalating a disagreement over how to implement a May decision by Europe’s top court.
The proponents of Parliament’s resolution say they want to put pressure on the commission to act swiftly against Google, which they accuse of abusing its dominant market position to stifle local firms.
“Competition on the Internet is greatly skewed,” Evelyne Gebhardt, a lawmaker with the left-leaning Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, said in a debate in the parliament on Wednesday. “Many suppliers and providers don’t really have genuine access to consumers because there is market dominance by certain search engines.”
The commission is currently taking stock of its five-year-old investigation into Google’s search practices after three successive attempts at a settlement ended in failure. Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s new competition czar, has said she would take her time to assess the strength of the case before taking further steps, but that appears to be too slow for some European lawmakers.
“The commission is exploring, it is exploring and exploring, but it has been exploring for years now,” Ms. Gebhardt said.
Anne Sander, a French lawmaker with the center-right EPP party grouping, said she hoped the resolution would “act as an electric shock, to ensure that Europe comes out of its situation as a colony of the new digital world.”
Still, a number of lawmakers warned that the EU shouldn’t adopt a protectionist stance toward the Internet.
“We shouldn’t look for a scapegoat to explain our weaknesses,” said Michal Boni, an EPP lawmaker from Poland.
The resolution has also rankled some U.S. senators and congressmen, who sent at least three letters to their EU counterparts in recent days to express their “great concern” about the proposal, and urge a rethink.
“We believe that antitrust enforcement should be applied independent of politics and firmly rooted in our shared international principles,” wrote Bob Goodlatte, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
Corrections & Amplifications
In a vote in Strasbourg, 384 legislators voted in favor of the controversial initiative, with 174 against and 56 abstentions. An earlier version of this article gave an incorrect vote count by the European Parliament on Thursday’s resolution on Google Inc.
Write to Tom Fairless at firstname.lastname@example.org