Friendly Competition or Bitter Rivalry? European Union attacks Microsoft for “playing dirty”

Photo: Wikimedia Commons/ Dcoetzee

Photo: Wikimedia Commons/ Dcoetzee

On Wednesday, March 6, Joaquin Almunia struck a serious blow against computer behemoth Microsoft in Brussels. Almunia is the European Commissioner for Competition and has fined the company 561 million euros for not upholding certain responsibilities that were promised at the end of 2009. At the time, the company had just eluded prosecution with regard to abusing their dominant position in the tech world, and the aforementioned promises were made to appease consumers. In December of 2009, the company promised to put an end to the “bundling” of its internet browser, Internet Explorer, and its operating system, Windows. The corporation assured the public that it would leave some freedom to clients, by proposing a “choice screen” between different browsers.

The investigation opened in July 2012 by the Commission for Competition is formal. It appears that Microsoft truly has not maintained its promised responsibilities, at the expense of at least fifteen million clients between May 2011 and July 2012. Commissioner Almunia has even brashly claimed that the company lied: “Although Microsoft submitted a report to the Commission in December 2011, affirming the existence of the Multichoice window, we have received indications from third parties who maintain that it [Microsoft] has not submitted to the responsibilities since February 2011.” For Mr. Almunia, this conduct should lead to “serious consequences.”

Since July 2012, Microsoft has publicly recognized the “failing of their obligations.” The group has apologized and emphasized a technical error found in equipment of certain products that would disrupt the proper operating of the Multichoice window system. In Brussels, where Microsoft seems to have few friends, Almunia’s defense judged that statement to be unconvincing.

This latest action against Microsoft shows a new development in the seemingly endless tussle that has existed between the American company and guardians of European competition for the past fifteen years. The European Union aims to protect smaller computer and technology companies from being crushed by sensations like Microsoft, Apple and Google. The so-called “guardians” oversee rivalries that exist between companies and find it imperative to apply stricter policies in demanding amicable agreements between internet giants, who are suspected of doing what they can to crush their rivals. The question remains however; is it the responsibility of the EU to make such demands of international corporations, and at what point should the line be drawn? Competition has always been, and will continue to be necessary, for without competition, there is no desire to improve. The last thing the world needs is a stagnation of technological advances.

Almunia however, believes that responsibilities and strong moral compasses should be the ammunition used in rivalries commonly found between companies. “The responsibilities (promises) taken by businesses themselves are a good way to deal with rivalries…but this can only work if they comply with these requirements to the letter,” he said on Tuesday.

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