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EU Competition Commissioner: 'I Have No Grudge Against Google'

Margrethe Vestager said the case against Google is about fair business practices, not politics.

Johannes Jansson/

As she wraps up her U.S. tour, Margrethe Vestager, the European Union competition commissioner leading the antitrust case against Google, is trying to shake the notion that she has a vendetta against the company.

Last week, Vestager officially announced the agency’s charges, two cases that could bring upward of $6 billion in fines for Google and wide-reaching implications for tech companies across Europe. That has given the Danish politician a particular reputation in the press. Over the weekend, the New York Times ran a profile casting her as Google’s “steely foe.” AFP dubbed her Google’s “nemesis.”

On Monday, in a speech at the NYU School of Law, Vestager brushed off that depiction.

“Most media would like a conflict,” she said. “I have no grudge against Google. We have made a statement of objection lining out our preliminary view on a certain conduct.” That conduct is Google’s moves to wield its dominant search position to promote services in what the commissioner called “neighboring markets” — in this case, online shopping. She added: “This, as we see it, is a pretty straightforward case of consumer domination.”

She also addressed President Barack Obama’s claims, articulated in his Re/code interview, that Europe’s approach to U.S. tech companies is driven by protectionism. Vestager disagreed. The antitrust case, she claimed, is not about defending the EU’s “flag,” its regional business interests.

“First of all, it would be plain stupid to make it a point about what flag, because we need business in Europe. We need investment in Europe,” she said. “When doing business in Europe, we will do our best to find out if rivals are not competing on the merits.”

For now, it does not appear that U.S. regulators will follow Vestager’s maneuvers. On Friday, Edith Ramirez, the FTC chairwoman, told the Financial Times the agency would not reopen its investigation into Google on search.

Still, Vestager did make it clear she was talking to her transatlantic peers. Her visit to New York followed a trip to Washington D.C., where she spoke at the American Bar Association. For her talk on Monday, the primary focus was on substantial progress in cooperation of regulators across the oceans.

And her comments revealed she wants those ties to strengthen. “We need to recall that if a jurisdiction rigs the game to the advantage of its own companies,” she said, “it is not only a losing economic strategy, it will also poison the well of the antitrust cooperation.”

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