Public debate with Google, EU Parliament would be ‘inappropriate,’ Vestager says

12 January 2015. By Lewis Crofts.

EU competition chief Margrethe Vestager has said a public debate between her staff, EU parliamentarians and Google wouldn’t be “appropriate,” given the company is under formal antitrust investigation.

The European Commission has been investigating Google since November 2010, suspecting the company of abusing its power over search-advertising markets.

Public interest in the investigation has grown, with more than 20 companies coming forward to make formal accusations against Google. They include Microsoft, Foundem and Expedia.

While the European Parliament has no formal role in such investigations, some lawmakers have sought a greater role for the institution, calling hearings, asking formal questions and giving advice to EU investigators.

Marc Tarabella, a socialist member of the EU assembly, asked Vestager if the commission would be “willing to help to organize and participate in a public debate together with parliament and Google’s representatives, so that the various aspects of the investigation can be discussed and the outgoing commission’s work explained.”

In a response published today, the commissioner said there were strict EU rules governing the conduct of antitrust probes.

“While the commission is aware that this investigation has received a lot of public attention, it would like to underline that the commission applies competition law in an objective and impartial way,” she said.

“The commission’s participation in a public debate with the parties to an ongoing antitrust investigation outside the procedural framework of competition law would therefore not be appropriate.”

Vestager said she appreciated the parliament’s interest in the probe, but that there was a “legislative framework” to ensure investigations are run “in an impartial and transparent way, respecting the rights of all the parties involved.”

In the past, Ramon Tremosa and Andreas Schwab, two EU lawmakers, have organized formal events to air views on the Google case. Last year, they said they were planning to organize another similar event.