Google has hired a top White House official to work on its European antitrust cases

“You guys keep taking my best people.”
“You guys keep taking my best people.”
Image: Reuters/Jason Reed
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Google’s new head of global public policy hasn’t even started her job yet, but she already has an urgent task at hand: dealing with the European Commission’s two antitrust investigations into her new employer.

The New York Times reported on Jan. 12 (paywall) that Caroline Atkinson, a former White House adviser, would join Google in March. (Google confirmed the appointment to Quartz.) She fills a role that has been vacant for 10 months, since Rachel Whetstone left to join Uber. Tech firms have increasingly turned to former White House officials to lead their lobbying efforts. These include ex-press secretary Jay Carney, who went to Amazon, and Obama adviser David Plouffe, to Uber.

Atkinson has been described as a consummate dealmaker and diplomat with a low-key style (paywall). As the deputy national security adviser at the White House, she was the president’s “sherpa” at the G-8 and G-20 summits. She has deep ties in the public sector and with Wall Street, counting former US treasury secretary Timothy Geithner and Allianz chief economic adviser Mohamed El-Erian as longtime friends. She came to the White House after a career at the IMF, the US Treasury Department, the Bank of England, and consultancy Stonebridge International before it merged with Madeleine Albright’s strategy firm.

Atkinson will need all that experience. Google faces two European Commission antitrust investigations under Margrethe Vestager, a commissioner who’s shown she’s not afraid to get tough with big US tech firms. A year into her five-year term, Vestager formally accused Google of anti-competitive behavior with its price-comparison product, Google Shopping. At the same time she opened an antitrust probe into Android, Google’s mobile operating system, which dominates the world’s smartphone market. A commission spokesperson told Quartz both investigations are ongoing. No date has been set for further decisions in either of them.

It’s not only on antitrust that Vestager is giving tech companies headaches. The commission is looking into Apple’s tax arrangements in Ireland and Amazon’s setup in Luxembourg to see if those governments have brokered deals amounting to illegal state aid. Just yesterday the commission ruled that Belgium made illegal tax deals with multinationals including Anheuser-Busch InBev. It previously found that Fiat and Starbucks had broken the same tax rules in Luxembourg and the Netherlands respectively.

Atkinson’s arrival will shore up the efforts of Google’s president of strategic relationships in Europe, Carlo d’Asaro Biondo. Last February he was given the task of leading a Google “charm offensive” across European industries to minimize continental objections to its expanding reach. Google doesn’t usually break down revenues by country, but its latest annual report (for 2014) did show that US revenues have recently declined as a share of the total, to 43%. It says its next biggest markets are Europe and Japan. Europe is likely growing, therefore, and both Biondo and Atkinson must find a way to keep EU regulators happy.