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European antitrust chief defends deal with Google

Joaquin Almunia says he stands behind an antitrust agreement with the search giant despite criticism from rival businesses.


Google's deal to avoid a huge antitrust fine in Europe is no "gentlemen's agreement," the European Commission's competition chief said on Friday.

Speaking at an antitrust conference, Joaquin Almunia defended the recent deal with Google in which the search giant agreed to certain conditions to settle a long-standing investigation. To avoid a potential antitrust fine as high as $5 billion, Google agreed to display search results to its own services in the same way as those for rival companies, along with other concessions.

Google's latest rapprochement may have satisfied Almunia. But other parties aren't so willing to accept the latest round of promises.

Rival businesses have criticized the plan for not going far enough to thwart Google's monopoly on Web searches. Sources also told Reuters that a third of the members of the European Commission actually were opposed to the deal.

But in his speech, Almunia pointed out that the deal is far from done.

"I have also heard people say that the Commission has entered a gentlemen's agreement with Google which would lead to a way of dropping the charges or closing the file. Not at all," Alumnia said, referring to a type of agreement that's not legally binding and instead relies on the integrity of the parties involved.

Before the case can be closed, the EC has to contact all 18 of the companies that filed the initial complaints against Google. Almunia's challenge is to explain and justify the preliminary decision to those complainants. The Commission can then either ask Google for further concessions or officially settle the case.

Google must certainly be relieved by Almunia's decision after he rejected the company's past proposals. But with rivals and many Commission members reportedly against the deal, the search giant may not be off the hook just yet.