BRUSSELS: The European Union (EU) hopes to close a high-stakes anti-trust dispute with Internet giant Google by next spring, Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said on Tuesday, with a settlement seeming increasingly possible.
The commission, the EU’s executive, has accused Google of giving unfair preference in its search results to its own services, such as surveys of restaurants and hotels.
Google attempted to assuage the concerns earlier this year, but the EU said that the US Internet giant still fell short of satisfying complaints with plaintiffs and Google competitors.
But a new proposal submitted early in September and worked on with the commission ever since shows “significant improvements,” Almunia told lawmakers in European Parliament.
He said a questionnaire will now be put to plaintiffs and market participants “in order to conclude whether this new proposal is satisfactory from a competition point of view.”
If satisfactory, the commission will continue on the negotiated settlement route “and end up with a formal decision next spring,” he said.
Brussels launched its investigation of Google in November 2010 following a complaint by several companies, including Microsoft.
Google holds about 70 percent of the search engine traffic in the US and 90 percent in Europe. In January, US authorities absolved Google of noncompetitive practices in a very similar case.
A company found at fault in an EU anti-trust probe can face fines of up to 10 percent of its total annual sales.