Luxembourg, 10 November 2021 (dpa/MIA) – The EU General Court upheld on Wednesday a 2.4-billion-euro (2.8-billion-dollar) European Commission competition fine against Google for abuse of market dominance in the online shopping sector, boosting EU ambitions to rein in the US tech giant.
Dismissing Google‘s appeal, the European Union’s second highest court backed the EU executive branch’s view that Google Shopping put itself at illegal advantage. The Luxembourg-based judges found Google, when returning search results, had broken antitrust rules when it favoured “its own comparison shopping service over competing services,” an official court press release stated.
Google said the case related to “a very specific set of facts” and that it had complied with the commission decision in 2017, changing the way its service worked. The company is now reviewing the EU General Court’s verdict, Google spokesperson Emily Clarke said.
The ruling can still be challenged at the bloc’s highest court, the European Court of Justice.
Commission spokesperson Arianna Podesta said the decision sent “the clear message that Google‘s conduct was unlawful.”
The commission will continue to “use all tools at its disposal” to regulate big tech companies in the EU single market, Podesta said.
After years of investigation, the EU executive concluded in 2017 that Google had systematically given preferential placement to its own shopping service and demoted rivals in search results.
The fine was the first of three anti-trust penalties slapped on Google by the commission in recent years, totalling more than 8 billion euros. Appeals over the other two fines are ongoing.
Podesta told reporters in Brussels that the antitrust actions went “hand in hand” with wider efforts to regulate digital platforms in the EU, a nod to legal proposals aiming to foster competition and curb the dominance of very large online platforms.
The Digital Markets Act, proposed last year, is currently under scrutiny in the European Parliament and by the member states.
Podesta declined to comment on the potential for further antitrust action against Google.
The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) welcomed the new ruling. BEUC director Monique Goyens said “Google’s misleading and unfair practices harmed millions of European consumers by ensuring that rival comparison shopping services were virtually invisible.”
The legal victory brings fresh impetus to European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager’s attempts to regulate Google‘s activities in the EU single market.
The EU has a touchy relationship with the US-dominated global technology industry. The bloc’s executive has pushed back against what it views as data privacy violations, anti-competitive practices and sweetheart tax deals.
Vestager in particular has gone after Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple, opening a string of investigations in recent years. A number of these have fallen flat when challenged in EU courts.
Last year, the EU General Court threw out a 13-billion-euro tax bill handed to Apple. Wednesday’s decision is therefore likely a relief for Vestager.