Joaquin Almunia's position as the European competition commissioner makes him one of the most powerful men in tech. Companies like Google and Microsoft have persistently lodged complaints against each other, and it's down the the European Commission (EC) to ascertain what needs to be done. Although he relies on a large team of high-ranking officials and advisors to support him, Almunia has the final say in what action the EC will take.
Despite his power, Almunia remains extremely open to communication from tech companies. In a New York Times profile, the paper reveals the commissioner "sometimes sends [Google Chairman] Eric Schmidt a text," quoting Almunia saying he has an "open phone line, or email line, or SMS line at any moment." Almunia says keeping these channels of communication wide open helps the EC better understand the market.
Almunia believes in communication, but isn't afraid to take action where necessary
The New York Times paints Almunia as a man who would rather resolve disputes and complaints through negotiation, just as he did when investigating Apple and others for ebook price-fixing. That hasn't stopped the commissioner from levying fines and blocking mergers, though. Just last month, Microsoft was fined around $730 million for failing to abide by a previous antitrust ruling regarding browser choice in its Windows OS, and, in a non-tech-related case, the EC blocked the high-profile merger of shipping giants UPS and TNT. Discussing the case, Almunia noted that European business and consumers would have been harmed by the merger, saying it would have "drastically reduced choice between providers and probably led to price increases."
Almunia has a number of big decisions coming up that could drastically change the tech landscape in Europe and beyond. Google is currently under fire for anti-competitive behavior in the EU, and despite the FTC essentially dropping a similar case in the US, the commission's investigation is ongoing. Back in January, Almunia said he believes that Google has been diverting traffic towards its own services, which, because of the company's huge search marketshare, would leave it open to anti-competitive litigation.
Fresh complaints could extend the EC's Google investigation
Earlier this week, a group that includes Microsoft, Nokia, and Oracle brought a new complaint to the EU, claiming that Google's Android platform stifles competition by featuring the search giant's applications and services more prominently. Android has a significant lead in smartphone marketshare worldwide, and although large parts of the OS are open, that doesn't exclude Google from playing by the rules.
Almunia called the Android complaint "a new step in the investigation." Before the fresh allegations, reporters and analysts believed that the EC would favor compromise over the long, expensive process of bringing Google to task in court.