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EU defends Google deal

EU antitrust commissioner Joaquin Almunia has defended a deal with Google following criticism from rivals and others, saying there had been no gentlemen's agreement to close the case.

The EU has been negotiating over Google apparently blocking competitors in search results. More than a dozen companies, including Microsoft, have accused it of squeezing them out of the market.

Earlier this month, Google agreed to make concessions to display rivals' links more prominently, aiming to end the case that could have led to a fine of up to €3.6bn.

The EU backed a deal last week, calling it a significant concession which had allayed competition concerns.

However rival firms said the plans did not go far enough and would only entrench Google's dominance of Internet searches. Almunia brushed aside the criticism.

"I have also heard people say that the Commission has entered a gentlemen's agreement with Google which would lead to a way of dropping the charges or closing the file. Not at all," he told a meeting.

He said an independent trustee would monitor Google to ensure that there would not be any anti-competitive practices.

Almunia still needs the majority of his fellow commissioners to push through the deal, but said he welcomed criticism from inside the EU. "It is logical. There are 28 commissioners, each having his own views. It is good that each one can share his views," he said.

Under its latest proposals, Google, which is estimated to have a 75% share of the European search market, will let three rivals display their logos and web links in a prominent box, and content providers will be able to decide what material Google can use for its own services.

Google will also scrap restrictions that prevent advertisers from moving their campaigns to rival platforms such as Yahoo!'s search tool and Microsoft's Bing. The company must stick to the deal for the next five years.

Almunia, however, said Google continues to be under regulatory scrutiny over its Android operating system for smartphones. "We are in the process of investigating Android in the next few weeks," he said.