28th Sep 2023

EU antitrust chief slaps historic fine on Microsoft

  • With a Microsoft appeal and new commission worries on Vista, the story is far from over yet (Photo: EUobserver)

US software giant Microsoft has said it will appeal against a hefty €280.5 million fine imposed by the European Commission on Wednesday (12 July), after Brussels found the firm is still ring fencing its Windows system from competition.

Microsoft has been locked in a dispute with Brussels for years over its widely-used operating system Windows, with the commission accusing the firm of obstructing rival software firms like Adobe and IBM from running software through Windows.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

The commission in March 2004 told the US firm to fully disclose the technical information needed by competitors to offer programs to consumers which can be run on Windows.

But competition commissioner Neelie Kroes said on Wednesday that Microsoft "did not even come close" to meeting Brussels' demands.

"No company is above the law," she indicated, hitting the firm with a €280.5 million penalty covering the period from December 2005 - when a final warning was issued - to last month, amounting to €1.5 million a day.

First time in EU history

Ms Kroes warned that the company founded by Bill Gates faces additional fines of €3 million a day from the end of this month if it sticks to its recalcitrance.

She added "It is the first time ever in the 49 year history of the EU that the European Commission has had to fine a company for failure to comply with an antitrust law."

"I sincerely hope this will be the last time."

Until Wednesday, Brussels has only imposed fines on companies forming cartels, not on alleged quasi-monopolies such as Microsoft.

But as Ms Kroes was taking her characteristic firm stance while speaking in the commission press room, she heard from reporters that Microsoft had already confirmed it would file an appeal to the decision at the European Court of Justice.

"This is a democracy," Ms Kroes reacted.

Software industry divided

The US firm on Wednesday received backing by a number of software companies joined in the Association for Competitive Technology (ACT), which said in a statement that they had no problems at all with making their programs Windows-compatible.

"Microsoft has provided more than enough information and support to create interoperability, but the commission and Microsoft's competitors really want the ability to clone Microsoft software," said ACT president Jonathan Zuck.

But another group of software producers grouped in the European Committee for Interoperable Systems (ECIS) welcomed Brussels' move, AP reports.

According to a statement by ECIS, which includes PDF producer Adobe and the firm making RealPlayer, "Microsoft continues to profit in the market from every day of non-compliance."

"[The] immediate decision to appeal these fines suggest that it will continue to impede EU antitrust enforcement at every possible opportunity," the statement said.

Meanwhile, a further episode in the saga is already in sight, with Ms Kroes warning that Microsoft's new operating system Vista should also comply with EU rules.

"We are consistent in our philosophy," she said referring to the Vista system which is set to be launched next year.

Row over EU official considering Microsoft job

An EU official set to head the European Commission's antitrust case against Microsoft is instead considering a job with a consultancy that counts Microsoft as one of its major clients.

IEA says: Go green now, save €11 trillion later

The International Energy Agency finds that the clean energy investment needed to stay below 1.5 degrees Celsius warming saves $12 trillion [€11.3 trillion] in fuel expenditure — and creates double the amount of jobs lost in fossil fuel-related industries.


How do you make embarrassing EU documents 'disappear'?

The EU Commission's new magic formula for avoiding scrutiny is simple. You declare the documents in question to be "short-lived correspondence for a preliminary exchange of views" and thus exempt them from being logged in the official inventory.

Latest News

  1. Germany tightens police checks on Czech and Polish border
  2. EU Ombudsman warns of 'new normal' of crisis decision-making
  3. How do you make embarrassing EU documents 'disappear'?
  4. Resurgent Fico hopes for Slovak comeback at Saturday's election
  5. EU and US urge Azerbijan to allow aid access to Armenians
  6. EU warns of Russian 'mass manipulation' as elections loom
  7. Blocking minority of EU states risks derailing asylum overhaul
  8. Will Poles vote for the end of democracy?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Medical Devices Regulators Forum (IMDRF)Join regulators, industry & healthcare experts at the 24th IMDRF session, September 25-26, Berlin. Register by 20 Sept to join in person or online.
  2. UNOPSUNOPS begins works under EU-funded project to repair schools in Ukraine
  3. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsGeorgia effectively prevents sanctions evasion against Russia – confirm EU, UK, USA
  4. International Medical Devices Regulators Forum (IMDRF)Join regulators & industry experts at the 24th IMDRF session- Berlin September 25-26. Register early for discounted hotel rates
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersGlobal interest in the new Nordic Nutrition Recommendations – here are the speakers for the launch
  6. Nordic Council of Ministers20 June: Launch of the new Nordic Nutrition Recommendations

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Sustainable Finance CentreJoin CEE Sustainable Finance Summit, 15 – 19 May 2023, high-level event for finance & business
  2. ICLEISeven actionable measures to make food procurement in Europe more sustainable
  3. World BankWorld Bank Report Highlights Role of Human Development for a Successful Green Transition in Europe
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic summit to step up the fight against food loss and waste
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersThink-tank: Strengthen co-operation around tech giants’ influence in the Nordics
  6. EFBWWEFBWW calls for the EC to stop exploitation in subcontracting chains

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us