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Google Sternly Rebukes Europe’s Antitrust Charges

BERLIN—Striking a defiant tone, Google announced on Thursday that it was rejecting the European Commission's long-running antitrust charges against the search giant, calling the accusations "unfounded."

The search giant said rivals like Amazon and eBay are proof that there is ample competition in the European market, while rebuking claims that it unfairly favors its own shopping services.

The European Commission's "preliminary conclusions are wrong as a matter of fact, law and economics," Kent Walker, Google's general counsel, wrote in a blog post published Thursday. "Economic data spanning more than a decade, an array of documents, and statements from complainants all confirm that product search is robustly competitive."

The sharp dismissal of the charges means that a preliminary ruling could be handed down later this year—and many analysts have said it could come with a fee tallying in the billions of dollars. Most calculations put the maximum fine at $6.7 billion, or 10 percent of Google's most recent annual revenue haul. Historically, however, in similar cases against Microsoft and IBM, the fines have fallen far below that percentage.

Google dominates the search market in Europe, accounting for about 90 percent of the continent's Internet searches, compared with about two-thirds in the U.S.

European regulators have been investigating Google's practices for five years, a probe that has prompted some U.S. lawmakers and even President Obama to suggest that it may be grounded in anti-American sentiment and a desire to support tech companies in the European Union.

But Google's European enemies bristle at that notion, pointing out the cohort of complainants against Google includes U.S. companies such as Microsoft and Yelp.

Google's defenders "have become a great victim of Google-lobbying," said Thomas Höppner, a lawyer representing German media companies, one of the complainants in the case. "Either they say it's Europe against America or they say it's Microsoft against Google depending on who they are talking to. It can't be both."

Google is also being investigated by the European Commission on several other counts, including its dominant Android mobile platform. The commission had granted Google two extensions this month to submit its formal response by Aug. 31, but the search giant turned in its paperwork Thursday afternoon.

Google previously has attempted to broker some sort of negotiation with the regulators. But those talks appeared to dissolve with the elevation of Margrethe Vestager as the European Union's antitrust chief last year, who has generally been regarded as tougher than her predecessor, Joaquín Almunia.

Under Vestager, the European Commission formally brought its antitrust allegations against Google in April.

Google announced two weeks ago it was restructuring and forming a new parent company known as Alphabet. But experts say that will not affect the antitrust case and was likely not motivated by the deadline for Google to respond to the charges.

"I can't see how they could use this in their defense," said Susanne Zuehlke, a partner at E&Z Lawyers in Brussels who follows antitrust cases but is not involved in the Google probe. "The break up [in Europe] talk is about separating their search unit from their advertising." The resorting, she added, cleaved Google along the wrong fault lines.

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