The Brief: Margrethe Vestager’s Googlewhack Adventure

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter.

First she took a bite out of Apple. Today, it was Google’s turn to face the music, courtesy of the European Commission’s Great Dane.

Commissioner Margrethe Vestager is still on her crusade of holding to account any company that dares flout EU anti-trust rules.

Today, she slapped Google with a €2.4 billion fine for allegedly using its supreme market position to give its own online shopping business an unfair leg-up.

The fine ended up being double the amount of early predictions. But it could have been much worse for Google. The maximum penalty possible was 10% of the company’s revenue last year, roughly €8 billion.

But what the Commission takes with one hand, it gives back with the other. It’s easy to forget that Google’s life is made a whole lot easier by fairly uniform data protection and copyright rules across the bloc.

It’s not Vestager’s job to worry about that though. The way she is going about her actual job, however, is cementing her status as the jewel in the current Commission’s crown.

Not only did she make the announcement the same day competition chiefs from EU countries were in Brussels, thereby presenting a united front, but she also expertly batted away fresh allegations of anti-US bias.

Boiling it down to a us vs them mentality is wrong too. After all, seven US companies and industry groups, including News Corp and Getty Images, penned an open letter to Vestager on Monday, supporting the EU’s stance.

Americans should in fact be flattered that its tech giants are under such scrutiny. It shows that they are seen as the main competition, but as Vestager herself said: “We congratulate you for being successful. But the applause stops when you stop competing on merit.”

Antitrust cases could be the panacea to the EU’s various PR and visibility problems. This is an area where Brussels, and Brussels alone, can hold huge companies to account.

And people love a good ‘evil-corporation-gets-its-comeuppance’ story. The more high-profile cases Vestager and her team get through (and rest assured, there are plenty more in the pipeline), the more effective the EU will look.

Hyperbole alert: Denmark’s cool, Borgen-inspiring, leather-jacket-wearing, bicycle-riding Commissioner could end up reigniting faith in the European project single-handedly.

* Google “respectfully disagrees” with the Commission’s position.
** US President Donald Trump, unfortunately, had not graced us with a tweet by the time we published.

The Roundup

Climate Commissioner Cañete was visibly disappointed with EU energy ministers after they agreed on energy efficiency revisions that did not live up to the executive’s expectations.

One of the UN’s SDG experts warned that development projects cannot be planned in far-off Brussels. An appeals court ruled that the Dutch government was partially responsible for the deaths of 300 Muslim men during 1995’s Srebrenica massacre.

Martin Schulz has attempted to restart his stalled campaign by pledging to reject any coalition deal in which gay marriage is not included. Here’s a nice visual of where same-sex matrimonies are and aren’t recognised in Europe.

MEP Kaja Kallas is worried that Bulgarian Commissioner-elect Mariya Gabriel doesn’t have her own list of priorities. Brussels’ approval of Italy’s wind-down of two embattled banks has already sparked concerns about how banking resolution rules are applied.

The President of the Party of European Socialists told Sarantis Michalopoulos that, unlike the EPP, the Socialists do not impose decisions on its members.

Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon admits there is not enough appetite for a fresh independence referendum at the moment and will not introduce legislation before the end of 2018.

Croatia is now part of the Schengen Information System, taking another step forward in EU integration. Its Dubrovnik airport will also benefit from €95 million in cohesion funding.

Spain’s courts have been busy. One Madrid tribunal asked the ECJ if tax exemptions for the Catholic Church are illegal state aid; judges ruled that it may be unlawful depending on circumstance. Another court ordered the exhumation of surrealist artist Salvador Dalí, to settle a paternity case.

Donald Trump’s approval rating outside of the US has been compared to Barack Obama’s. Out of 37 countries polled, only Russia and Israel had a higher opinion of the incumbent than his predecessor.

Look out for…

The College of Commissioners will present its reflection paper on the future of EU finances by 2025. Commissioner-elect MEP Mariya Gabriel hosts the Bees & Biodiversity event tomorrow in the Parliament. Save the bees!

Views are the author’s.

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