Politics & Policy

Jealous Much?

So the EU’s parliament (chosen by a small percentage of Europeans) is continuing its war against Google (chosen by a large percentage of Europeans).

Google’s real offense? Success while being American.

Wall Street Journal:

The European Parliament overwhelmingly approved a resolution that calls for a possible breakup of  Google  Inc., brushing aside last-minute objections from the U.S. Congress that the move risked politicizing an antitrust investigation. While the initiative has no binding power on the European Commission, the bloc’s top antitrust regulator, it highlights the growing political resistance in Europe to the power of the U.S. search engine giant, which has a European market share of over 90%, far higher than its share in the U.S.

In a vote in Strasbourg, 384 legislators voted in favor of the controversial initiative, with 174 against and 56 abstentions. Lawmakers rejected a last-minute amendment by the liberal party bloc that would have dropped a key clause calling for a possible “unbundling” of search engines from other services they may offer….

Parties of the ‘center-left’ and ‘center-right’ agree–oligarchy is such fun–that something must be done:

“Competition on the Internet is greatly skewed,” Evelyne Gebhardt, a lawmaker with the left-leaning Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, said in a debate in the parliament on Wednesday. “Many suppliers and providers don’t really have genuine access to consumers because there is market dominance by certain search engines.”

Anne Sander, a French lawmaker with the center-right EPP party grouping, said she hoped the resolution would “act as an electric shock, to ensure that Europe comes out of its situation as a colony of the new digital world.”

If anything needs breaking-up, it is, of course, the EU parliament, a pillar of the EU’s post democracy and famously sleazy too, making this little detail uncovered by the New York Times rather less than surprising:

Andreas Schwab, a German member of the European Parliament, has been making headlines in the last week after drafting a resolution that calls for the breakup of Google.

But Mr. Schwab is not just a legislator, he is also “of counsel” at the German law firm CMS Hasche Sigle, which has represented some of the German publishing interests that have been most eager to declaw Google. He earns roughly $15,000 to $75,000 annually from the firm, according to a disclosure filing. The firm’s website lists his expertise as competition policy.

The Economist adds:

Among the loudest voices lobbying against Google are Axel Springer and Hubert Burda Media, two German media giants.

The parliament’s resolution fuses cronyism, protectionism and the anti-Americanism that is baked into the EU (and, incidentally, seems to bother the pro-Brussels State Department barely at all) into one rather nasty mix.

Even the reliably federalist (and very far from rightwing) folk at the Bruegel think tank  (Google makes a small contribution to its budget, something that is disclosed upfront) are unimpressed. Mario Mariniello notes how competitive the market for digital services really is, and:

An even bigger risk for users is the signal that such an intrusive remedy would give to the market. No doubt Google has developed a very successful product that Europeans in particular value highly (that explains the high market share). Penalising Google by breaking up its business model would suggest to any potential new Google-like innovator that it should not be too successful otherwise its business model might also need to be broken up one day. This is contrary to the very nature of competition policy, which aims to reward successful companies for being successful, not to punish them, unless it is shown that the company achieved its market power through illegal behaviour. And it is fundamentally contrary to the interest of consumers, because fewer innovators will bring successful products to Europe in the future.

Indeed.

Schadenfreude is always such sweet pleasure, so let’s flick back to the conclusions of the European Council held at Lisbon in March 2000, the council that finalized the ‘Lisbon Agenda’. Pausing only to savor one of my favorite sentence in the whole document (“The euro has been successfully introduced and is delivering the expected benefits for the European economy.”), let’s hurry on until we get here:

The Union has today set itself a new strategic goal for the next decade: to become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world…

How did that work out?

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