European Union Commissioner for Competition, Margrethe Vestager
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The decision by Europe’s top business regulators to fine Google $2.7 billion has sparked immediate accusations of protectionism and anti-American bias.

The fine, announced Tuesday, is a record, but it’s not unique. Other U.S. companies have faced similar penalties. Intel (INTC, Tech30) was fined €1.06 billion ($1.2 billion) in an antitrust case in 2009. It is still fighting the decision.

Before that, Microsoft (MSFT, Tech30) was slapped with several antitrust fines that added up to well over $1.8 billion.

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These fines make people wonder whether the EU has something against American companies.

But EU rules are clear. The European Commission can levy fines of up to 10% of a company’s global annual turnover in antitrust cases. Google’s (GOOGL, Tech30) global revenue last year was almost $90 billion, which means the maximum fine could have been $9 billion.

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“The same guidelines would apply if it was a U.K., French or any other [EU] member state’s company being fined,” said Adam Rooney, a partner at Signature Litigation, a firm focusing on commercial cross-border disputes.

Fines against European companies tend to be smaller, because their revenues also tend to be smaller.

But there have been cases of the EU imposing big fines on big European businesses. Germany’s Daimler (DMLRY), which makes Mercedes cars, was fined €1 billion in a cartel case last July.

But it’s not just the size of the penalty that bothers some in the U.S.

“We have grave concerns about this fine which appears, once again, to justify our long held concerns about EU antitrust overreach adversely affecting U.S. companies,” said Gary Shapiro, the President of the Consumer Technology Association, the tech sector’s industry body.

The EU’s top antitrust official, Margrethe Vestager, on Tuesday rejected suggestions she or the Commission were biased against U.S. companies.

She said that an analysis of investigations her department has launched found that U.S. companies were not being disproportionately targeted.

Vestager also pointed out many of the companies that complained against Google were based in the U.S.


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