BRUSSELS: The European Parliament voted overwhelmingly for the break-up of Google on Thursday (Friday in Manila) in a largely symbolic vote that nevertheless cast another blow in the four-year standoff between Brussels and the US Internet giant.
In a direct challenge to Google, the members of parliament (MPs) assembled in Strasbourg approved a resolution calling on the European Union to consider ordering search engines to separate their commercial services from their businesses.
While Google is not directly mentioned in the proposal, the California-based search engine is clearly the target. The resolution passed with 384 in favor and only 174 votes against.
The European Parliament has no power to launch the break-up of Google, but the move, introduced by two senior lawmakers, is a further indication that the mood towards the company in Europe has soured.
Contacted by Agence France-Presse, a spokesperson for Google in Brussels said the company had no comment to make.
Google has become a lightning rod for critics in Europe on a broad range of issues from privacy to the protection of national publishers.
“We wanted to give a strong signal to the European Commission but also to US companies like Google and to citizens,” said a Belgian MP, the socialist Marc Tarabella.
Since 2010, Google has been under investigation by the European Commission in response to complaints that its search engine, the world’s biggest, was squeezing out competitors in Europe.
Right to be forgotten
Google and Brussels have also clashed over the so-called “right to be forgotten,” in which the EU’s top court ruled last year that people had a right to ask search engines to delete results involving them after a period of time.
In another attack on Google, on Wednesday EU privacy watchdogs issued guidelines calling on the company to apply the right to be forgotten rule to all search results.
For now, the ruling only applies to European domains, such as google.fr and google.de, and users can turn to other domains to find unmodified information.
The parliament debate comes as the commission, the EU’s executive arm, begins a new five-year term, with former Luxembourg premier Jean-Claude Juncker at its helm.
The new competition commissioner, Denmark’s Margrethe Vestager, has said she would look at the sensitive case carefully, but the resolution will be added pressure for her to move quickly.
French Digital Affairs Minister Axelle Lemaire said MPs had sent a “strong message” and that it was now up to the EU to design the best way to tackle Internet giants.
EU nations “must ask themselves whether European regulation is strong enough to address abuse of dominant positions that can potentially become devastating,” she said after talks with ministers in Brussels.
Weeks before stepping down, Commissioner Vestager’s predecessor, Joaquin Almunia, sharply criticized the “irrational” response by European politicians to the Brussels investigation of Google.
Google and Almunia had made three attempts to resolve the dispute, but in each case intense pressure by national governments, Internet rivals and privacy advocates scuppered the effort.
In a statement on Wednesday ahead of the vote, the US mission to the European Union said it had “noted with concern” the parliament resolution and urged that the case against Google “not be politicized.”
Two years ago, US authorities dropped a similar case against Google, having failed to prove the search engine had abused its dominant market position.