Google and the EU foreign policy
By Alberto Mingardi
The European Commission is opening an investigation on Google, for alleged anti-competitive practices. The EC is concerned that “the company has given an unfair advantage to its own comparison shopping service, in breach of EU antitrust rules”.
Wayne Crews has an excellent piece on Forbes. Wayne digs into the political nature of antitrust. He points out that “antitrust’s goal is getting forced access to the customer base of the the successful firm and allowing competitors to sit still.
The second but equal goal of antitrust is to enrich the antitrust bar and bureaucracies, expanding the state for new incursions and aspirations for power, such as net neutrality.”
There is much of politics in European competition policy. It is not by chance that some of its past major targets have been American corporations: GE, Microsoft, Intel, to whom we may now add Google. Somebody in Brussels may be convinced that competition policy is the only real foreign policy the EU really has.
It is easy to compare the situation of Google today with that of Microsoft some ten years ago, when it got fined by then European Commissioner Mario Monti. (Crews has a nice point: it is nonsense to talk about a “Competition Commissioner”).
But Google’s situation is much different than what used to be Microsoft’s. For one thing, the European case against Microsoft came after a thorough investigation by the DOJ, led by then-Assistant Attorney General Joel Klein. Somehow, part of the world’s public opinion was already deeming Microsoft’s market dominance to be very dangerous and was somehow surprised when ultimately the American Microsoft case was dropped. (On the Microsoft case, you should read this book by Liebowitz and Margolis). The European Commission is, so to say, taking the lead with Google, which is a company that enjoys a far better reputation – with the general public but with regulators and decision makers, too. This may change, if anything, the way in which the media portrays the case. If Mario Monti was “SuperMario” triumphing over Jack Welch and Bill Gates, I am not so sure Commissioner Margrethe Vestager may easily capitalise on the Google case.
Does this matter? Isn’t Antitrust a ‘technical’ rather than a ‘political’ issue? If Wayne is right, and antitrust is “predatory corporate welfare policy”, which means it is inherently redistributive, it is very political indeed.