Commission imposes a fine of €561 million on Microsoft

Press conference by Joaquín Almunia, Vice-President of the EC in charge of Competition. (EC Audiovisual Services, 6-3-2013).

Press conference by Joaquín Almunia, Vice-President of the EC in charge of Competition. (EC Audiovisual Services, 6-3-2013).

Late in the afternoon of today 6 February, the Commission issued an announcement, signed by Joaquín Almunia, Vice President responsible for Competition Policy, saying that the Commission imposes on Microsoft a fine of €561 million. According to this Press release, the decision came as result of Microsoft’s failure to comply with the legally binding commitments which it made to the Commission.

Almunia notes that in December 2009 the Commission made legally binding on Microsoft the commitments then offered by the company. As of March 2010, Microsoft was therefore obliged to display until 2014 a “choice screen” enabling users of Windows in the EU to easily choose their preferred web browser.

The Commission announcement also notes that although Microsoft did make the choice screen available in March 2010, the choice screen was not rolled out as required following the launch of Windows 7 Service Pack 1 in May 2011. As a consequence, during more than a year, until July 2012, around 15.3 million users couldn’t see the choice screen as they should.

Consequently Almunia concludes, that “Microsoft has acknowledged that it did not comply with its own commitments”. The vice President of the Commission however doesn’t stop there. He points out that “Immediately after I received information about this fact, I ordered the reopening of proceedings, and in October last year a Statement of Objections was adopted to which Microsoft replied in December. Following an in-depth investigation and taking into account Microsoft´s reply to our objections, today’s decision finds that Microsoft has indeed breached its legally binding commitments”.

It is obvious that the Commission considers this as a very serious breach, irrespective of whether it was intentional or not, and it calls for a sanction. The Commission has therefore imposed a fine, as foreseen by the EU’s Antitrust Regulation. This is the first time that the Commission has found a breach of legally binding commitments enshrined in an article 9 Decision.

Almunia comments that in setting the level of the fine, “the Commission took into account the gravity and the duration of the infringement as well as the need to ensure that the sanction is sufficiently deterrent. At the same time, once the breach was discovered, Microsoft cooperated with the Commission and provided information which helped the Commission to investigate the matter efficiently. This was taken into account as a mitigating circumstance”.

 

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