Google Tries to Charm European Public Despite EC Antitrust Claims

Google is using hard and soft lobbying to endear itself to Europeans while the EC continues to slap the company with antitrust complaints.

Google, EC antitrust charges

Google is running a "charm offensive" in Europe, wooing the public as it faces a growing list of antitrust objections from regulators there, The New York Times reported July 19.

The Times estimates Google's earmarked spending for "soft lobbying," for the time between 2015 and 2017 to be approximately $450 million. Such heart-and-minds campaigns include free digital training courses for Irish schoolteachers and a high-tech interactive art exhibition at Google's Cultural Institute in Paris.

In 2014, Google's spending on political lobbying in Brussels, the seat of the European Commission, reached $4.2 million, according to the report (which added that Google spent significantly more—$17 million—that same year lobbying in Washington).

By year's end, The Times added, Google will spend another $75 million to help approximately 2 million Europeans to learn "digital skills like e-commerce and online marketing (often based on the company's own advertising products), an important goal for European policy makers, who are trying to create a digital single market to jump-start economic growth."

Even the media is enjoying Google's deep pockets. In France, broadcaster Euronews received more than $500,000 to test 360-degree news videos.

Its chief executive, Michael Peters, told The Times that he understands Google has an agenda. "But this gives organizations like ours the chance to do these types of projects. It wouldn't have happened without Google," he said.

On July 14, the European Commission delivered an anticipated third Statement of Objection to Google, saying it took additional investigative measures, since an early complaint in April 2015, and it's still further convinced that Google's search results favor Google's "own comparison shopping service over those of competitors."

EC Commissioner Margrethe Vestager acknowledged in a statement that Google's products have made a difference in people's lives.

"But that doesn't give Google the right to deny other companies the chance to compete and innovate," she continued. "Today, we have further strengthened our case that Google has unduly favoured its own comparison shopping service in its general search result pages. It means consumers may not see the most relevant results to their search queries."

The July 14 EC Objection also focused on Google AdSense, which the commission believes restricts third parties from fairly competing.

"These practices have enabled Google to protect its dominant position in online search advertising," the Objection stated. "It has prevented existing and potential competitors, including other search providers and online advertising platforms, from entering and growing in this commercially important area."

The commission gave Google and Alphabet 10 weeks to respond to its Objections.