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Revealed: how Google enlisted members of US Congress it bankrolled to fight $6bn EU antitrust case


US tech firm has stepped up lobbying efforts with $3.5m charm offensive to persuade EU to drop punitive action over alleged abuse of monopoly position

Google enlisted members of the US congress, whose election campaigns it had funded, to pressure the European Union to drop a €6bn antitrust case which threatens to decimate the US tech firm’s business in Europe.

The coordinated effort by senators and members of the House of Representatives, as well as by a congressional committee, formed part of a sophisticated, multimillion-pound lobbying drive in Brussels, which Google has significantly ramped up as it fends off challenges to its dominance in Europe.

An investigation by the Guardian into Google’s multifaceted lobbying campaign in Europe has uncovered fresh details of its activities and methods. Based on documents obtained under a freedom of information request and a series of interviews with EU officials, MEPs and Brussels lobbyists, the investigation has also found:

Google’s co-founder and CEO Larry Page met the then European commissionchief privately in California in spring 2014 and raised the antitrust case despite being warned by EU officials that it would be inappropriate to do so.

Officials and lawmakers in Brussels say they have witnessed a significant expansion of Google lobbying efforts over the past 18 months as the company faces increased scrutiny of its business activities in Europe.

Google has employed several former EU officials as in-house lobbyists, and has funded European thinktanks and university research favourable to its position as part of its broader campaign.

Scaling up

Google’s expansion of its lobbying activities in Brussels has come in response to a growing number of threats to its business in the EU, where it dominates about 90% of the search market. It argues that its rivals lobby just as hard against it, if not harder.

In April, a long-running antitrust investigation came to a head when the newly installed EU competition commissioner, Margrethe Vestager, formally accused Google of abusing its market dominance by systematically favouring its shopping price-comparison service.

Google, which could face a heavy fine of more than €6bn (£4.3bn) if found guilty,has rejected Vestager’s case as “wrong as a matter of fact, law and economics”. But this is only one of the battles Google is fighting in Brussels.

The European commission has also launched a separate competition investigation into Google’s mobile operating system, Android, and indicated additional inquiries are being considered. This follows the symbolic blow MEPs dealt the US company late last year with the so-called “unbundling” resolution.

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