Mario Monti, the competition commissioner for the European Commission, said on Tuesday that European competition policy needs to be "active, but not activist" in promoting a healthy business environment in EC member states. Writing in the Financial Times, Monti emphasised that the rights of consumers in individual countries must not lose out to the "globalisation interests" of big business.
The EC is the executive branch of the European Union.
Monti and the competition commission are in the midst of an investigation of Microsoft's business practices, which were declared to constitute an illegal monopoly by a US court earlier this year. Microsoft is settling the case in the US, but the European investigation is a separate matter, both legally and technically, and is not affected by the proposed settlement in the US.
The commission has previously intervened in other high-tech businesses, such as the proposed merger of EMI and AOL Time Warner, which was abandoned amid EC concerns over the group's potential domination of Internet music delivery.
In the FT column, Monti clarified that the aim of competition laws is not to help companies or industries, but citizens. "Competition policy is about consumers benefiting, not about the rise and fall of individual companies," he wrote. "The objectives of the competition rules are the same in all parts of the economy: to ensure wider consumer choice, technological innovation and price competition."
He said it is essential that "market power is not abused". Most cases that have involved serious problems were matters of market concentration, he wrote.
Companies who argue that regulation should be relaxed in their domestic markets to ensure their success internationally are missing the point, Monti wrote. "We must examine the reality. Imagine there is a problem with a particular company in a national market in Europe. We would do a disservice to that country's citizens were we to sacrifice their interests to the globalisation interests of the company."
But Monti says that competition law should be used in a positive sense to keep markets open. "A strong, effective competition policy is fundamental to the success of many sectors in Europe," he wrote. "A nuanced approach is required... but nuanced does not mean laissez-faire. We are cautious in our interventions, but not hesitant; active, but not activist."
Think it's all over? The antitrust case against Microsoft can still go back the to Court of Appeals, and then there's the European Commission's investigation... See ZDNet UK's DoJ/Microsoft News Section for the latest headlines.
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