Vice President of the European Commission responsible for Competition Policy
Statement on Microsoft non-compliance with the browser choice commitments.
Midday press briefing, Berlaymont press room, Brussels
17 July 2012
I am announcing today the opening of an investigation into the possible non-compliance by Microsoft with the commitments on web browsers it gave to the Commission in 2009.
To avoid the tying of Internet Explorer –Microsoft internet browser- in December 2009, the Commission made legally binding on Microsoft a commitment to make available a "choice screen" enabling users of Windows in the EU to easily choose their preferred browser.
This decision therefore put Microsoft under an obligation to provide the choice screen to European Windows users until 2014. This has proved very effective when implemented: it gave consumers a real choice to use the product that most suited their needs.
Although Microsoft submitted in a report to the Commission in December last year that the choice screen was still present, we have received indications from third parties that Microsoft has not complied with its commitments in the period from February 2011 until today.
Microsoft has recognised these facts. More precisely, it appears that since the launch of Windows 7 Service Pack 1 in February 2011, the choice screen has no longer been displayed. As a result, about 28 million users may not have seen the choice screen at all.
Despite this, Microsoft submitted in a report to the Commission in December last year that the choice screen was still present.
We are now opening formal proceedings against the company. If following our investigation, this breach is confirmed – and Microsoft seems to acknowledge the facts here – this could have severe consequences.
Needless to say, we take compliance with our decision very seriously. If the infringement is confirmed, there will be sanctions.
Generally speaking, I consider that commitments by companies themselves are a good way to solve competition problems when we identify them, as an alternative to lengthy proceedings. This is true especially in fast-moving markets such as in the IT sector. But this can only work if companies implement these commitments fully.
Commitments decisions are constantly monitored by the Commission. In this case Microsoft submitted an annual report. In spite of the fact that the Microsoft reports showed full compliance with the commitments, we have been alerted by other market players about the possible breach and we are now taking action.
However, on top of the consequences of our investigation on the Microsoft case, I am considering the strengthening of our monitoring for this type of decisions, for example by a more frequent appointment of monitoring trustees.
I will also take additional steps to better monitor the implementation of commitments made legally binding in other antitrust cases. We will for example look at the Standard & Poor case and the EDF long-term electricity contracts case, which are particularly complex.
Finally, I of course encourage companies to keep alerting us if they notice irregularities or non-compliance with our decisions.