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EC: Competition Commissioner: 'EC must not accept closed standards'

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The European Commission should not rely on one software vendor and must not accept closed standards, European Union Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said on Tuesday.

The Commission must refuse to become locked in a particular technology and risk loosing control over its information, Kroes emphasised at a conference in Brussels on Open IT Standards, organised by Open Forum Europe.

Kroes recommends governments use software based on Open Standards. "I know a smart business decision when I see one - choosing Open Standards is a very smart business decision indeed."

This decision should be made not just because of the long term economic effects, she said. "There is a democracy issue as well. No citizen or company should be forced or encouraged to use a particular company's technology to access government information. No citizen or company should be forced or encouraged to choose a closed technology over an open one, through a government having made that choice first."

Kroes was also critical about the way technology standards are established. "We have to look carefully at how it is done. If voting (on standards) is influenced less by the technical merits of the technology, but rather by side agreements, inducements, package deals, reciprocal agreements or commercial pressure, then these risk falling foul of the competition rules."

She offered help to standards organisations: "If they need help tightening their procedures to avoid being manipulated by narrow commercial interests, my door is always open."

Though she did not mention any names, Kroes her speech clearly referred to Microsoft. "We all know that the Commission has found competition problems in some technology markets. The commission has never before had to issue two periodic penalty payments in a competition case."

Microsoft for the past year has tried to get the International Standardisation Organisation (ISO) to approve OOXML, its format for electronic documents. Irregularities in the ISO-process have been reported by many and four countries have filed objections at ISO.
Recently Microsoft promised to include support for the ISO-approved Open Document Format in its Office applications.

© European Communities 2008
Reproduction is authorised provided the source is acknowledged.
The views expressed are not an official position of the European Commission.
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Further information:

New York Times news item

International Herald Tribune news item

Bloomberg news item

Kroes' statement (English, pdf)