Alphabet’s appeal against a multibillion-dollar fine for alleged anticompetitive behavior by its Google unit risks backfiring after a European Union court floated the prospect of increasing the fine (Warning: source paywalled; alternative source), rather than scrapping it. The Wall Street Journal reports: In a surprise twist Friday at the end of a three-day hearing, one of five judges on the panel said the EU’s General Court has the power to increase the $2.6 billion fine, levied in 2017, if it finds that the sum was insufficient to deter the company from further anticompetitive behavior. “The fine of ~$2.6 billion was described as eye-catching, but it is a small amount of cash in your hands,” Judge Colm Mac Eochaidh said in court. “Did that level of fine deter you from repeating your behavior?” he asked Google’s counsel. Increasing a fine has only one precedent in the court’s history, according to Mr. Mac Eochaidh, when German chemicals giant BASF SE was ordered to pay ~$58,000 in 2007 on top of an initial ~$38 million fine for participating in a chemicals cartel.
Christopher Thomas, a counsel for Google, dismissed the idea that the fine was warranted and said the company takes the entire antitrust process “with extreme seriousness.” Google disputes the findings of the commission that it had willingly or negligently squeezed competitors out of its shopping searches. The prospect of raising the fine was described as theoretical by the panel’s presiding judge. Still, it sent Google lawyers scrambling for arguments, with one sitting on the floor outside the courtroom frantically researching how to contest such a move. If Google loses the case, it has the right to appeal to the bloc’s highest court, the European Court of Justice.