16 March 2004 The European Union has backed plans to punish Microsoft for violating antitrust law. The decision follows an investigation that has lasted for five years.
The backing of the EU’s member states means that the European Commission can impose a fine and other sanctions against Microsoft, which will be announced in full next week.
In addition to a fine of up to 10% of the company’s revenue, these sanctions are expected to include prohibiting Microsoft from bundling its Media Player software with its Windows operating system and forcing Microsoft to divulge more information on how Windows works.
The idea is to enable third-party software developers write better applications on the Windows platform and to encourage closer interoperability between Windows and non-Windows based computers.
The conclusion of the Commission and its proposed punishments for Microsoft were “unanimously backed” by EU member states, according to Commission spokeswoman Amelia Torres. Microsoft said that negotiations to reach a settlement were continuing, but the backing of member states will strengthen the hand of the Commission.
Microsoft is also under pressure to agree a deal before 1 May, when tougher antitrust rules come into force across the EU. Under these new rules, the Commission would be able to make antitrust settlements legally binding.
As a result, the Commission and Microsoft’s rivals could take legal action against Microsoft if they felt that it was not complying with the terms of the settlement. A settlement could also be overturned by the commission if it later found that a company under investigation had provided false or misleading information — and replaced with a more severe regime.