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El Reg drills into Google's search biz offer to Europe

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Analysis Google's formal offer of concessions to European Commission competition officials - over allegations that the ad giant had abused its dominance of the search market in the EU - have finally been made public.

As we reported on Thursday, rivals now have one month to scrutinise Google's proposals and then tell antitrust chief Joaquin Almunia whether they agree with the remedies submitted by the company. Even if they disagree, the commission can still proceed with a legally-binding settlement with Google that stops far short of sanctions.

Indeed, Brussels has been clear that it wants to reach a deal with Google based on Article 9 of the EU antitrust regulation. Under such a settlement, Google would not be required to admit to any infringement of EU competition law but would need to stick to its commitments laid out to the commission for five years.

If no deal can be agreed, Google could face a fine of up to 10 per cent of its annual worldwide turnover.

Google, in its offer (PDF), said:

Nothing in these commitments should be construed as establishing a violation of EU competition rules or an admission that Google agrees with the concerns expressed in the commission’s preliminary assessment, or with any factual allegation or legal conclusion asserted or referenced by the commission in any final commitments decision, or any other documents or statements released by the commission in connection with this investigation.

Google expressly denies any wrongdoing or that it has any liability relating to the Commission’s investigation under Article 102 TFEU.

The commission, in carefully-worded statements, has previously said that Google "may be abusing its dominant position in the European Economic Area (EEA)".

If Almunia's office should ever confirm that Google had indeed abused its command of the search business in Europe - where it holds a more than 90 per cent share - then the multi-billion dollar outfit would be found in breach of competition law in the EU.

Specifically, Google argues that the commission should respond to its "commitments" favourably, claiming that it would "avoid the time, inconvenience, and expense of ongoing proceedings, with the understanding that the commission will confirm that there are no grounds for further action and will close all open investigations on the four competition concerns".

However, rivals - who are now poring over Google's proposals - remain to be convinced, which is hardly surprising given some of the caveats Google has applied to its submission.

These include the company stating that its commitments involve "technical mechanisms and interactions between multiple different systems against a background of rapidly evolving products, technologies and business models."

That's a statement that arguably would grant Google generous wiggle room for tweaks to its search engine over the next five years, were the settlement plan to be accepted by the commission.

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