Ramon Tremosa and Andreas Schwab welcome the Commission's initiative to hold 'state-of-play meetings' with all complainants involved in the on-going antitrust investigation against Google. "In our understanding a state-of-play meeting should however be an opportunity for real exchange and not a false front. Google's commitments proposal has to be subjected to the remarks and comments of the formal complainants and subsequently potential shortcomings have to be addressed to avoid a void settlement", the two Members of European Parliament announced.
Indeed, the Catalan and the German competition policy experts still have doubts about the effectiveness and the impact of Google's last commitment proposal published in February 2014. "The settlement as it is currently proposed fails to fight abuse in the best interest of consumers. That is however exactly the goal that Vice-President Almunia and his services continue to set themselves", say Tremosa and Schwab.
They evoke the shortcomings in the way of displaying rivals links. Vice-President Almunia has repeatedly stated that rivals links have to be displayed "in a comparable visual format". However, the key aim of the settlement must remain to address in a satisfactory manner the concern that Google favourably treats links to its own specialised web search services as compared to links to competing specialised web search services. Although Google's "comparable display"-proposal might be a solution to this concern, it needs first to be scrutinized by the market. As regards the current Google proposal concerning a visually comparable display of rivals, the MEPs ask themselves why however this principle is not applied to all types of vertical search. The proposed illustrations for several sectors (e.g. hotel search, flight search, travel insurance, car insurance and mortgages) appear indeed inconsistent with the principles set out in paragraphs 2 to 5 of the commitments. Furthermore they stress their criticism of the proposed auction mechanism by which Google would select three rivals to display their services on a search results page. "This goes against the interest of consumers and innovation. Consumers will no longer find the cheapest offer at the top of a Google page, but those who have the highest revenue margin. At the same time, new and innovative start-ups will simply not be able to enter the online marketplace to compete as they do not have the necessary capital to participate in Google's auctions", the MEPs say.
"There is no doubt that the outcome of this case will have a broad economic, political and societal impact. We thus trust that Vice-President Almunia will reconsider the critical points of the commitments raised by expert scrutiny and act as the guardian of competition to the benefit of consumers.", Tremosa and Schwab conclude.