EU Chief: Google Offer May End Search Engine Case

Google EU internet antitrust
Virginia Mayo/APJoaquin Almunia, vice-president of the European Commission.

BRUSSELS -- Google's latest offer to modify its Internet search engine offers the prospect of ending a long-running European Union competition probe, the bloc's top antitrust official said Tuesday.

The European Commission, which is the EU's antitrust regulator, has asked the world's most popular search engine for more measures to address concerns it was blocking competitors, including Microsoft (MSFT), in search results.

Joaquin Almunia told lawmakers in the European Parliament he believed the new offer made it easier to see Google's rivals when making an internet search.

"We have reached a key moment in this case," Almunia said. "Now with the significant improvements on the table I think we have the possibility to work again.

"If our investigation of this improved proposal is satisfactory then we will continue the commitments route and end up with a formal decision next spring," he said, adding, "I think that the settlement route remains the best choice."

%VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%The EU investigation into complaints that Google was blocking competitors in order to avert a possible $5 billion fine has been running for three years.

Google (GOOG), which has a market share of more tahn 80 percent in Europe's Internet search market, told the commission in April it would mark out its services from rival products in internet search results.

It also proposed providing links to at least three competing search engines and make it easier for advertisers to transfer their search advertising campaigns to rival platforms. It offered further concessions in September.

Kent Walker, Google's general counsel, said in a statement the European Commission had insisted on big changes to the way the company displays search results.

"While competition online is thriving, we've made the difficult decision to agree to their requirements in the interests of reaching a settlement," Walker said.