LONDON—European Competition Commissioner Mario Monti has hit back at criticism of the European Commissions ruling in its antitrust case against Microsoft Corp., describing its consultation process as wider than that of the U.S. Department of Justice, and the European Union as “more united than the United States” over the issue.
Speaking at a conference on Monday organized by the European Commission and the U.S. Mission to the European Union, Monti defended the action the EC has taken against Microsoft, as well as welcoming the companys appeal against the judgment.
Significantly, Monti also revealed that the EC had been in “continuous, deep consultation with our U.S. colleagues at various levels, including many times between Hew [R. Hewitt Pate, the DOJs assistant attorney general for antitrust] and me … both in the course of the formal procedure and in the course of the negotiations in view of reaching a settlement.”
In March, Pate issued a statement criticizing the EC decision and claiming the remedies reached in the DOJs own antitrust case had already “resulted in substantial changes to Microsofts business practices.”
Monti also claimed that the consultation process the EC had undertaken before reaching its judgment “took place to an extent that was probably not done by the Justice Department at the time of reaching [its] settlement.”
“In this case concerning this Microsoft decision … the EU happened to be more united than the United States, in the sense that this decision was—Im afraid—not a peculiar or extravagant decision of an activist competition commissioner, but it was a decision which had the unanimous support not only of the College of the Commission, but—and this does not happen for all competition cases—of all the National Competition Authorities [of the EUs member states]” he said.
The ECs judgment in the case—which saw it impose a record fine of €497 million ($611 million) and order Microsoft to unbundle Windows Media Player from Windows—attracted wide criticism from members of the U.S. Congress and Senate.
In an open letter sent to Monti after the initial judgment, the House International Relations Committee pointed to the DOJs remedies in its equivalent case, and claimed the ECs “investigation of the potential anti-competitive effects of Microsofts actions, specifically the inclusion of audio and video functionality in Windows operating systems, is difficult to understand in the context of the U.S. settlement and the U.S.-EU Comity Agreement of 1991.” Under this agreement, governments rely on their counterparts to take action against offending companies in antitrust cases.
Others went further, with Rep. Ben Nelson of Nebraska describing the ruling as “a hostile act against an American company with severe consequences for the global economy,” and Rep. Adam Smith of Washington calling it “based on protectionist policy, not on sound economic principles.”