May 1, 2004

Gates to Europe: "And to whom shall I make out the check?"

AN ITEM ON THE WHOPPING MICROSOFT FINE in Europe from Christopher Booker's Notebook

Gates's billions are safe

A month ago, to some fanfare, the Brussels competition commissioner, Mario Monti, announced he was imposing a 331 million fine on Microsoft, the giant US computer corporation, for the crime of giving away a "media player" as part of its Windows operating system. Even though there is nothing to stop customers installing a free rival media player, Mr Monti and his officials had decided that this constituted "unfair competition".

Lord Pearson of Rannoch then asked in the House of Lords how the European Commission proposed to collect the fine. Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean, a Foreign Office minister, explained that, under Article 256 of the Treaty, fines on commercial organisations must be collected by member states. Since Microsoft sells its products in every EU country, I therefore asked the Foreign Office to explain who decides how much of the fine must be collected by the British Government, and who is responsible.

The Foreign Office suggested that responsibility for taking the money off Microsoft would probably fall to the Office of Fair Trading. When I asked the OFT, they said it was nothing to do with them and suggested I should ring the European Commission.

The Commission's London office said it was nothing to do with them and that responsibility probably lay with the Competition Commission. They also said it was nothing to do with them, and that I should go back to the European Commission. I suspect Bill Gates of Microsoft can be confident of holding onto his money for quite a while.

Ah, tell me again about the European Union and its ability to govern better than the member states. In the meantime, if nobody can decide who should get the money, I'll take the check and hold it in my account until this gets sorted out.

Posted by Vanderleun at May 1, 2004 5:47 AM
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