Google protests EU antitrust fine for 2.6 billion dollars

LUXEMBOURG: Google attacked on Friday what it called an antitrust fine of 2.4 billion euros ($ 2.6 billion) from the EU, which led a judge to ask how a rich company can lose a relatively insignificant amount.

The fight underscores the battle for the world’s most popular Internet search engine, with two other challenges against EU antitrust agents that will be heard in the coming months.

The Alphabet unit argued that additional amounts added to the fine imposed by the European Commission in 2017 to deter anti-competitive behavior known as a deterrent multiplier and another multiplier factor was excessive and unjustified.

Google’s challenge came on the last day of a three-day hearing at the General Court, the second highest in Europe, as it attempts to nullify the first of a trio of EU antitrust sanctions for a total of 8,250 million euros .

“2.4 billion euros is a striking amount, it could attract the headlines but it is not justified by the actual facts of this case,” said Christopher Thomas, a lawyer for Google.

He said there should not have been a fine in the first place, since existing jurisprudence showed that Google’s behavior was not anticompetitive, while its market shares and the 13 countries where the infringement was committed did not justify the size of the multiplier.

The Commission used a severity multiplier between 5% and 20% for Google billing in 2016 in the 13 EU countries, higher than 5% applied to Intel in 2009. EU laws allow regulators to apply a multiplier of up to 30%.

EU antitrust regulators should also have taken into account the company’s efforts to resolve the case with concessions before they changed tactics in 2015 and sanctioned Google, Thomas said.

“Credit must be given for Google’s good faith attempts to find a solution to the Commission’s concerns with its three offers of commitments and the almost 9 months of engineering effort dedicated to building that provisionally agreed solution with the Commission,” said.

Irish judge Colm Mac Eochaidh, one of the five judges who heard the case and who a day earlier said that the company clearly committed an infraction, asked if the amount of the fine was as striking as Google claimed.

“You are one of the richest companies in the world,” he said, citing the example of someone with 120 euros and fined 2.4 euros for littering.

“Would you miss the 2.4 euros?”

Mac Eochaidh also wondered about the power of the court to increase or revise the fines, a thought that Google tried to crush by saying that the Commission had not asked the judges to do so.

The court in 2007 opened new paths by lifting a cartel fine imposed by the Commission for the first time, leaving BASF AG in Germany with a greater penalty.

EU executors simply adhered to the rules when calculating the fine, said Commission attorney Anthony Dawes.

“The Commission scrupulously followed the methodology established in the guidelines. Google’s conduct was a well-established form of abuse, ”he said.

A ruling is expected next year and can be appealed to the Court of Justice, the highest in Europe.

The case is T-612/17 Google and Alphabet / Commission.

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