Microsoft, EU Reach Impasse
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer rushed to Brussels, Belgium, this week to placate the European Union's (EU's) Commissioner for Competition Neelie Kroes for the second time in a year. But Ballmer received a cold reception from Kroes. Her message was simple and to the point: Microsoft must meet the EU's antitrust demands--and it must do so immediately.
"The \[European Commission\] will be obliged to take formal steps to ensure full compliance," an EU representative said after the meeting, which was cut short when Kroes informed Ballmer that her agency was prepared to fine Microsoft millions of dollars a day for not complying with the year-old EU antitrust sanctions.
The EU is requiring Microsoft to ship a version of Windows that doesn't include Windows Media Player (WMP). Additionally, the software giant must share server technical information with competitors. Microsoft's efforts in both areas have fallen short of the EU's expectations.
Microsoft tried to downplay the meeting, noting that Ballmer had asked for a face-to-face meeting with Kroes with little warning because he was already traveling and had never met the antitrust chief. Last year, he paid a similar visit to the previous EU competition commissioner, Mario Monti. On that visit, he tried to forestall EU sanctions. Those efforts failed.
Ballmer's trip this week was equally unsuccessful. After the meeting, the EU issued several statements indicating that it isn't impressed with Microsoft's continuing stalling tactics. "Over a year has elapsed \[since the sanctions were levied\] and as of today, we are not in a position to say that we are satisfied that Microsoft has complied fully with that decision," an EU spokesperson said. "Mrs. Kroes said that the Commission expects the decision adopted in March 2004 to be complied with urgently and in full, and she added that unless this was the case that the Commission would be obliged to take formal steps to ensure compliance. The Commission's patience with Microsoft will run out in a matter of weeks rather than months."