The European Commission has just fined Google nearly $1.7 billion for abusing its dominance of search ads to make life difficult for its competitors. This is the third massive fine in the past two years. In June 2017, the commission fined Google about $2.7 billion. In summer 2018, it imposed a fine of more than $4.8 billion for other forms of anti-competitive behavior. This marks a new willingness of European regulators to intervene against big tech companies — and some U.S. politicians want to follow in Europe’s footsteps.
Antitrust is different in Europe
The European Union has a very different antitrust system from the United States. The big cases are handled by a special directorate-general of the European Commission. Unlike in the United States, the commission does not have to make or threaten a court action to exact a penalty. Instead, it acts on its own, and the penalized company has the opportunity to appeal the penalty to the European Court of Justice. This may sound like a minor difference, but it means that the commission has greater ability to set the policy agenda than its American equivalents. It has used this ability to carve out a big role for itself, not only taking action against companies but also against national governments that provide various forms of state aid for their firms. In the last year, it has seen pushback from powerful member states, who are now saying that Europe needs to build up champion companies, which can push back successfully against Chinese and American competitors. But there has been little domestic pushback when it looks to clip the wings of big U.S. firms.
Read the full piece at The Washington Post.