European Parliament backs break-up of Google

This file picture dated Jan 11, 2011 shows a screen image showing the Google logo in Washington, DC. -- PHOTO: AFP
This file picture dated Jan 11, 2011 shows a screen image showing the Google logo in Washington, DC. -- PHOTO: AFP

STRASBOURG (AFP) - The European Parliament voted overwhelmingly for the break-up of Google Thursday 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, MEPs assembled in Strasbourg approved a resolution calling on the EU 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 favour 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 further indication that the mood towards the company in Europe has soured.

Google has become an increasing source of worry for European officials on issues ranging from privacy to the protection of national publishers.

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.

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.

The parliament debate falls 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.

Weeks before stepping down, Vestager's predecessor, Joaquin Almunia, sharply criticised 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 Wednesday ahead of the vote, the US mission to the European Union said it had "noted with concern" the parliament resolution.

"It is important that the process of identifying competitive harms and potential remedies be based on objective and impartial findings and not be politicised," a spokesman for the US mission said.

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