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EU googles on

Bernd Riegert, Strasbourg / sbNovember 27, 2014

Google has up to 90 percent European market share - a fact many EU politicians are unhappy with. While they seek to improve market regulation, they are not likely to break up the company. Bernd Riegert in Strasbourg.

EU eröffnet Missbrauchsverfahren gegen Google
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/O. Berg

The Internet giant's name isn't even mentioned in the European Parliament's draft motion. But everyone knows it is targeting Google.

In the EU, monopolistic search engines should be split up from other commercial services from the same company, the authors of the draft demand. Among the authors is European Parliament member (MEP) Andreas Schwab, a German Christian Democrat, and a lawyer from Baden Württemberg.

A level playing-field

Schwab is not seeking to destroy Google. "There are various other problems in the European digital market," Schwab told DW in Strasbourg, one being that the market is too fragmented, as each of the 28 EU member states have their own rules and regulations for companies on the Internet.

"We have to come up with a playing field and rules that are the same for everyone," Schwab said. That would prevent monopolies like Google from coming into existence in the first place and dominating the market. In a number of EU countries, Google has a market share of 90 percent.

The EU Parliament resolution aims to create a more customer-friendly digital market. But companies, such as German newspaper publishers, might also have something to gain. Julia Reda, a MEP for the Pirate Party explained: "This is a pretty transparent attempt by the Christian Democrats to implement an ancillary copyright for press publishers on the EU level," she said, adding that she would not be voting in favor of the resolution.

Andreas Schwab CDU Europaabgeordneter
Christian Democrat Andreas Schwab is for the resolutionImage: picture alliance/AP/Geert Vanden Wijngaert

EU Commission inquiry

The EU Commission has been conducting an investigation against the Internet giant for four years; 20 competitors had filed complaints of unfair practices in the way search engine results are shown. Google, they say, shows offers of its far above those of its competitors. The former EU Commission earlier sought an amicable solution to the problem, but in the end, failed to come up with one. Now the new EU Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager wants to push the proceedings along.

Schwab still has a number of questions he would like answered by Google. The resolution, according to him, should be seen as a kind of political support for the EU Commission - as a way to create more political pressure.

Google Data Center in Oklahoma
Google data center in OklahomaImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Schwab admits that a break-up of Google could be the result of the proceedings, but "it isn't clear whether that is really a good solution, whether it would be enough of a case to hold up in court and whether it could even really be implemented."

Market competition

The European Parliament itself, however, cannot decide that Google should be broken up, nor can introduce any laws for any framework for the digital market. The point of the resolution is to make a political statement.

"The actual initial purpose of the resolution is lost because the EU Commission proceedings against Google are still ongoing," Julia Reda said.

Andrus Ansip, whose area in the EU Commission this falls into, said earlier in a debate before the European Parliament, that search engines and their interlockings with other services on the net should be thoroughly investigated and discussed. He said the Commission would remain "very vigilant" when it comes to infringements on competition in the digital market.

His colleague Verstager will decide how the inquiry into Google will proceed as soon as she has been able to hear all sides, Ansip announced. The EU Commission does not really object to the EU Parliament's resolution; the European interior market is a shared priority.

'Luxemburg Leaks' and tax evasion

Reda said Google's business practices and its alleged monopoly weren't even the central issue at hand. She said developing competition is something which should generally be welcomed. But now, it would be much more important to deal with how Google gets around paying taxes in Europe. In Luxemburg, Ireland and other EU member states, profits from companies such as Google, Facebook and Amazon are only minimally taxed.

Europaparlament in Straßburg Julia Reda 01.07.2014
Julia Reda of the Pirate Party is against the resolutionImage: DW/B. Riegert

The topic of tax evasion was in the spotlight once again two weeks ago, when deals between Luxemburg tax authorities and companies were published in the so-called "Luxemburg Leaks."

"For a start, we should set up a committee to look into the Luxemburg Leaks and start patching up all the existing loopholes. That's what the Commission should be doing," Reda said.

It isn't very likely, however, that this will happen. The tax deals were signed while then-Luxemburg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker was still in office - the man who now is president of the EU Commission. Currently there are proceedings against Luxemburg for illegal activities in the tax affair. Juncker insists, however, that everything was done by the book in Luxemburg.