Google, lobbyists and no hearings

Google's battle with the European Commission which is hotting up, according to John Schmidt

3 September 2015

Google's battle with the European Commission and various complainants is hotting up. The Commission has sent its charge sheet, it provisional findings if you like. The normal process would now involve a formal hearing in which Google would present in person the conclusions of its detailed written response: i.e. articulate to the decision makers why their analysis is wrong.

Except that Google has cancelled that hearing. Instead the debate has now moved, ironically, to the Internet. Google's GC published a strongly worded rebuttal on its own blog-site (see link below). The complainants are fielding their lawyers and lobbyists on social media and in the press. 

I'm not sure that is helpful. At best, these oversimplify complex legal and economic points. But that is not in my view the issue. One has to ask why Google has cancelled the hearing.

The reason is likely because it is a waste of time and money. The purpose is to be able to present the case to influencers in the Commission's hierarchy above the case team. In practice, this rarely happens.  Senior hierarchy often don't attend more than the opening and closing statements. The actual decision makers are the Commissioners who are never present. Only a handful of representatives of national competition authorities (whose theoretical role is to provide constructive criticism in a consultative capacity) tend to show up and those that do don't seem to stay for the entire hearing.

It is a bold move not to seek a hearing in a case that is likely to find itself at the European court before long. I can understand why Google has done it. Maybe it is time to look at the effectiveness of hearings. There is a case for having the actual decision makers present.

The UK CMA has such a system. Hearings are shorter and more effective. The decision makers who until then have not had interaction with the parties run the hearing and the effect is that they can weed out bad cases from good ones and there have been a few of these. A CMA hearing serves a purpose and the companies involved can see that even if they don't persuade the CMA of their point of view.