E.U.'s anti-Microsoft vendetta finally provokes consumer backlash

Timothy Lee
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Posted: Sep 22, 2006 2:17 PM
E.U.'s anti-Microsoft vendetta finally provokes consumer backlash

European consumers and small businesses are suffering the effects of the European Union's continuing vendetta against Microsoft, and they're finally speaking up about it.

For years, European bureaucrats have cavalierly targeted Microsoft and other American companies like General Electric and Apple, assuming that they could do so with impunity. The predictable consequence of this E.U. campaign, however, is a de facto trade barrier, resulting in inferior products, fewer choices, higher prices and delayed access to the latest technological innovations for European consumers.

Beginning in March 2004, the European Commission ("E.C.") fined Microsoft a record €497 million ($612 million), brazenly demanding that Microsoft share its sensitive proprietary codes with competitors whose inferior products lost to Microsoft in the open marketplace. According to the E.C. at the time, Microsoft had committed the unspeakable crime of winning too great a market share, and held it responsible for providing a hand up to those competitors.

Then, this past July, the E.C. again fined Microsoft €281 million ($357 million), asserting that Microsoft somehow defied its antitrust orders. And what orders did they defy, you ask? Nothing short of demanding that Microsoft surrender its patented program codes with tantrum-throwing competitors. The fact that Microsoft invests billions of dollars and innumerable man-hours developing its intellectual property apparently means nothing to European bureaucrats.

Now, as Microsoft prepares to introduce its revolutionary Windows Vista operating system, the E.U. is warning it not to "shut out" rivals in the security software market. Translated, the E.U. won't tolerate Windows Vista being so superior a product that everyone will want to purchase it.

Call it the E.U. version of "Affirmative Action."

The reason that Microsoft developed integrated security features in the first place was that customers demanded them. E.U. Spokesman Jonathan Todd, however, warned that Microsoft cannot incorporate its planned security into Windows Vista, as this would "foreclose the existing competition in the security software markets." But complying with this mandate will obviously render the program less secure in order to protect Microsoft's competitors.

This is tantamount to the E.C. demanding that Coca Cola surrender its secret formula to inferior rivals, simply because European consumers happen to prefer Coke. Then again, we probably just provided the E.C. with its next bright idea.

For its part, Microsoft has actually sought guidance from the E.C. to ensure that Windows Vista will comply with its requirements when released. In a press release, Microsoft states that it seeks to ascertain whether the E.C. demands additional design changes that would delay its planned November introduction.

But the E.C. refuses to provide further guidance, arrogantly replying that "there is no reason why Microsoft cannot market Vista in a way that is fully compliant with competition regulations." In other words, the E.C. won't provide any guidance, but will predictably sue Microsoft's goose in pursuit of additional golden eggs afterward.

Is it any wonder that European economies are stagnant and unemployment is twice as high as the American unemployment rate?

It was just a matter of time until the consequences of the E.C.'s shenanigans were suffered by European consumers. Sure enough, the E.U. attacks against Microsoft and all things American has created an inevitable backlash amongst European consumers and voters.

Four members of the European Parliament, after receiving complaints from consumers and small businesses who understandably wish to purchase Microsoft products, have criticized European regulators for their constant attacks on Microsoft, pointing to the resulting delayed release of Microsoft software products to European consumers.

The four Parliamentarians, three from Britain and one from Poland, complained in a letter to European Antitrust Commissioner Neelie Kroes that the E.C.'s continuing persecution against Microsoft "has led to uncertainty about the legal principles that govern product design issues for future releases of Microsoft products in Europe."

The letter further points out that the E.C.'s witch hunt threatens to delay Microsoft's release of new products in Europe, with potentially grave economic consequences.

Americans should also be alarmed by these acts of European protectionism, and recognize our interest in preventing them. Forcing American technological leaders to surrender intellectual property stifles innovation and undermines their incentive to develop new products, and also jeopardizes American jobs.

American political leaders have so far failed to stand up to E.U. bureaucrats, and voters should voice their concerns and demand action. Nothing short of losing our technological and competitive edge is on the line, and what else do we have?