Online companies should not be allowed to abuse their dominant position even if this means unbundling search engines from other commercial services, Parliament said with a non-binding resolution it voted on last week. We discussed it with two MEPs who are behind the resolution: German EPP member Andreas Schwab and Ramon Tremosa, an ALDE member from Spain.
What exactly is the proposal to unbundle search engines from commercial activities about, and what is its main aim?
Schwab: The main issue of the resolution was to develop a coherent and broad strategy to develop the European Digital Single Market and so we have put together all major areas where we need policy proposals, one part of which was the issue of search engines; data protection, privacy, cyber security, roaming, net neutrality and so on. These are parts of policies in different areas but should be in the same package.
Tremosa: The resolution also gives Commissioner Andrus Ansip some guidelines on what we expect should be the future tasks. It is our opinion in a non-binding resolution that is a strong political message.
Would it result in too much market regulation?
Tremosa: Like others, we use Google, admire the company and acknowledge that their services have improved our lives. But we also recognise that Google is not a public service but a private company. We are not asking them to provide their algorithms just as we are not asking Coca-Cola for their secrets; but in the US Google has competition that it does not have in Europe. European SMEs are being expelled from the market, losing revenues and value at the stock market because of the preferential treatment that Google gives to its own commercial enterprises. If you want to buy a plane ticket and you search it on Google, you will get a big box with Google flight results. All the others are placed below.
Schwab: What we need is a level-playing field. Users should always get the best answers to their question. The goal of the Digital Single Market must be a broad variety of offers. So far, there are risks that by putting one gatekeeper in the middle that can co-sponsor their own services, they can make it very difficult for others to compete.
If search engines are separated from the commercial activities of their companies, can they earn profit and remain free to use?
Tremosa: This is not the first time that we are dealing with resolutions in the Parliament that implicitly or inexplicitly deal with Google. One year ago we voted to give a mandate to the Commission in a resolution on market competition in which we asked to overview the competition, especially the Google case. Four years ago the Commission started a case probing allegations of antitrust violations by Google. So this is not a new problem. They cannot claim to be surprised.
Schwab: The Commission itself is defending that search engines are a critical infrastructure in the area of networks and information security, but apparently they did not manage to define them as an essential facility in the area of competition. We need, however, to give the same answer to the same problems over all the policy areas and not separate one from another.