Publishers Push For EC To Reject Almunia’s Google Antitrust Proposal

The long-running saga involving a European investigation into Google over alleged antitrust violations has taken another turn: today a group of European publishers have come out urging the European Commission, which must approve the proposals made by European Commission Vice-President Joaquín Almunia, to reject them and go back to the drawing board for more research and further proposals that would be more competitive.

“This is a landmark case for the future evolution of the digital single market in Europe,” said Luis Enríquez, Consejero Delegado of VOCENTO, on behalf of a consortium of Spanish newspapers. “I trust that the Commission will demand that Google provides equal search and display criteria for all websites and at the same time puts an end to the misuse of publishers’ content.”

Almunia, who is due to step down from his post at the end of October, has said that he wants to wrap up the case, which has been in play since 2008, by the end of this summer.

The full response from the publishers is embedded below.

“European press publishers are greatly concerned that the Commission still appears to be moving towards a settlement in the Google anti-trust case despite all evidence and clear warnings by European consumers and businesses that the proposed deal would clearly fail to remedy the serious competition concerns identified by the Commission,” the group said in a statement today, issued to coincide with a roundtable taking place in Brussels on the subject, co-organised by other Google opponents like ICOMP (an umbrella group that includes big organisations like Microsoft and football’s Premier League but also smaller organisations like Hot Maps and hundreds of others).

Up to now, the publishers have been sitting on the edge of the current case against Google — which has been focused specifically on how Google, by far Europe’s most dominant search engine, presents search results alongside those of special-interest, “vertical” search engines covering areas like travel or automotive sales, and whether Google’s practices effectively make it impossible for smaller competitors to be seen by consumers.

But things have decidedly changed in the last few months. Almunia in May 2014 presented his final conclusions on the Google case, made after three rounds of proposals and responses from Google. In the last report, Almunia’s office essentially decided that Google had offered enough concessions to make the landscape more competitive.

Competitors have been up in arms, though, claiming that Google’s suggested measures do not go nearly far enough in setting up a level playing field, and they are concerned that if Almunia’s proposals go through, it will be even harder to negotiate changes going forward and give Google essentially a “carte blanche” to continue to develop ever more sophisticated ways of leading users directly to their services instead of others.

So, to step up their opposition, they have been bringing in more complaining parties. In addition to the publishers’ group, Yelp has also been getting increasingly vocal, although it has not formally joined the list of complainants (yet).

Today, it was publishers who were center stage, with representatives from several national organisations speaking up:

“Genuine and fair competition in the digital market are essential conditions for a thriving free and independent press sector that contributes to democratic debate all across Europe. Yet the current proposed commitments would have the reverse effect and effectively legalise Google’s abusive self-preference,” President of the Federation of German Newspaper Publishers (BDZV), Helmut Heinen, said today. “As a respected competition authority, the Commission must act decisively now and reject those commitments. It is time to enforce EU competition law properly putting an end to this anti-competitive conduct that is holding back the digital market in Europe to the detriment of consumers and businesses alike.”

“Should the European Commission approve of Google’s proposals, this would result in a carte blanche to misuse a digital monopoly,” said President of the German Magazine Publishers’ Association (VDZ), Prof. Dr. Hubert Burda. “‘Fair Search’ with equal criteria for all websites is an essential prerequisite for the prosperous and pluralistic development of the European media and technology sector. However, the proposed commitments are the opposite of ‘Fair Search.'”

The publishers coalition that has come today is being termed “informal” but it includes a number of press and publishing groups that have made official complaints already against Google and how it indexes search results. They include Bundesverband Deutscher Zeitungsverleger (BDZV); Verband Deutscher Zeitschriftenverleger (VDZ); Asociación de Editores de Diarios Españoles (AEDE); and their European Associations: European Magazine Media Association (EMMA); European Newspaper Publishers’ Association (ENPA); European Publishers Council (EPC); and Online Publishers Association Europe (OPA Europe).

  • Others that have signed today’s statement include Aikakausmedia / Aikakauslehtien (AKM); Association luxembourgeoise des éditeurs de journaux (ALEJ); Asociación de Revistas de Información (ARI); Asociación de Prensa Profesional y Contenidos Multimedia (ConeQtia); Associacao Portugesa de Imprensa (APIMPRENSA); Athens Daily Newspaper Publishers’ Association (ADNPA); Asociacia vydavatelov tlace (AVT); Czech Publishers’ Association (CPA); Cyprus Newspaper & Magazine Publishers Association (CNMPA); Danske Medier (Danish Media); Fagpressen (The Norwegian Specialised Press Association); Federazione Italiana Editori Giornali (FIEG); Polish Chamber of Press Publishers (IWP); Magazines Ireland; Mediebedriftenes Landsforening (MBL); Media voor Vak en Wetenschap (MVW); NDP Nieuwsmedia (NDP); National Newspapers of Ireland (NN); The Newspaper Society (NS); Austrian Special Interest Media Association (ÖZV); Professional Publishers Association (PPA); Sanomalehtien Liitto (SL); SCHWEIZER MEDIEN; Sveriges Tidskrifter (SMPA); The Swedish Media Publishers’ Association (TU); Union des Editeurs de la Presse Périodique (UPP); Austrian Newspaper Association (VÖZ).
  • Image: Flickr