Google Inc. is working on a revised offer to settle a four-year-old European Union antitrust probe after opposition from rivals derailed an earlier deal, EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said.
Almunia, who is set to leave office Oct. 31, said that the company might still receive a formal EU complaint, known as a statement of objections, if the company and regulators can’t reach an agreement on a revised settlement. Any deal would have to approved by his successor, Margrethe Vestager.
“I have now asked Google to improve the last commitments that were put forward at the end of January,” Almunia said at a conference in Florence, Italy, today. “They are working on this. I have not yet received their response.”
While Almunia’s predecessors took on the likes of Microsoft Corp. and Intel Corp. and levied billions of euros in fines, he had to scrap two proposed settlements with Google in the face of opposition from technology companies, publishers and politicians. He said earlier this month that he only ditched plans to finalize a pact after he got “very, very negative” feedback from rivals.
Al Verney, a spokesman for Mountain View, California-based Google, said the company is continuing to work with the EU to resolve its concerns.
Almunia started a probe in 2010 into allegations that Google discriminates against rivals that offer competing services in search results. Google in the deal most recently rejected by Almunia proposed showing links from rival search services next to its own specialized searches, such as Google Shopping. Competitors would pay for a spot in a shaded box on some of Google’s search pages.
The world’s largest search provider may be asked by the EU to change how data from competing services are displayed along with search results, a person familiar with the EU probe said in July. Other modifications may include addressing how YouTube content is presented in reply to search requests and changes to a paid auction for competitors to bid on search links.
The fate of the antitrust unit’s most high-profile case will be handed over to Vestager. The ex-Danish economy minister who was named to the powerful EU competition commissioner post said in an interview earlier this month that it was important “that cases are treated with fairness and transparency.”
Almunia also said the EU may expand the number of probes into tax deals given to some companies by national governments. The European Commission is currently looking at tax breaks that Ireland, the Netherlands and Luxembourg used to attract Apple Inc., Starbucks Corp. and Fiat Finance & Trade SA respectively.
“Maybe before the end of my time in office I will propose” to European commissioners “some other investigation in this area,” Almunia said.
He also said that he doesn’t expect to block any merger cases before the end of his term in October.