German Legislator Calling For Google Breakup Has Serious Conflict Of Interest

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The German member of the European Parliament behind the call to break up Google, Andreas Schwab, has a conflict of interest. According to the NY Times, he has ties to and earns money from a German law firm that represents anti-Google publishing interests in Germany.

German publishers lobbied for the passage of the “ancillary copyright” law intended to exact licensing revenue from Google for indexing their content. So far, however, it has totally backfired.

Under European rules, apparently, Mr. Schwab only has a duty to disclose the law firm relationship. He’s not barred from maintaining it while in Parliament. He’s also apparently not prevented from sponsoring resolutions or legislation that may be indirectly tied to interests the law firm represents — as in this case.

If the European Parliament had legal authority to initiate a Google breakup this would be a very serious problem. The body however is without authority in this case and any resolution or recommendation to break up the US company is symbolic.

The non-binding resolution comes up for approval tomorrow. It’s likely to pass.

Beyond expressing deep dissatisfaction with Google, as a practical matter, the resolution is intended to put pressure on the European Commission, the body actually presiding over the antitrust case. A successful “break up Google” resolution would mean that significant additional concessions would need to be made by the company to settle the matter.

But that was already probably true. The current settlement is dead.

The US has expressed “concern” about the potential European Parliament resolution as politicizing the antitrust process. The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that the US mission to the EU said the following: “It is important that the process of identifying competitive harms and potential remedies be based on objective and impartial findings and not be politicized.”

It’s probably already too late for that. Google’s position in Europe and its perceived impact on domestic European industries are highly “political” issues.

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