Summary: The European Commission makes strategic mistakes that weaken Europe and give more power to its rivals across the Atlantic, especially gruesome software monopolists
TECHRIGHTS has a lot of respect for Neelie Kroes and the Commission, but if the current agenda is to pay American companies for the privilege of running systems with American back doors (e.g. FBI access), then the European Digital Agenda (note capitalisation) is a bit of a farce. It also puts the continent at great risk in case of a future war.
A couple of years ago we showed how the Commission had been manipulated by lobbyists, then we also showed dubious appointments that made the Commission somewhat hostile towards Free software, and arguably European SMEs too. See for instance some of the following posts:
- European Commission Disappoints Regarding Free Software and Patents
- Why Today’s European Commission Could Face Legal Action for Selling Out to Microsoft
- Patents Roundup: Commission Sells Out to Microsoft; Apple and RIM Sued by Gates-backed Kodak
- Inaction From Ombudsman/EU Commission Regarding Microsoft Lobbyists Derailing Public Policy
- With New Patent Policy, European Commission Harms European Software Industry
- European Open Source Software Workgroup a Total Scam: Hijacked and Subverted by Microsoft et al
- Microsoft’s AstroTurfing, Twitter, Waggener Edstrom, and Jonathan Zuck
- Does the European Commission Harbour a Destruction of Free/Open Source Software Workgroup?
- The Illusion of Transparency at the European Parliament/Commission (on Microsoft)
- 2 Months and No Disclosure from the European Parliament
- After 3 Months, Europe Lets Microsoft-Influenced EU Panel be Seen
- Formal Complaint Against European Commission for Harbouring Microsoft Lobbyists
- ‘European’ Software Strategy Published, Written by Lobbyists and Multinationals
- Microsoft Uses Inside Influence to Grab Control, Redefine “Open Source”
- With Friends Like These, Who Needs Microsoft?
- European Commission Still Lobbied by Microsoft, OASIS Does Not Support Software Freedom
Neelie and her speech writer who helps manage her blog are no longer in the department which deals with the Microsoft case, but it is hard to forget her more recent remarks that may conflict with her views on Free software.
In the video above, Neelie speaks not in her mother’s tongue and she actually maintains an interesting YouTube channel a lot of which is in Dutch. She did a better job in the Commission than some of her successors, whom we recently showed to be supportive of RAND (with software patents). They are being stuffed by lobbyists and the following new comments berates them for it. The European commenter writes:
If I am not mistaken Oracle is an American company and Mingorance a lobbyist of an American rightsholder organisation. I can’t see how views from American lobbyists are relevant for a European Digital Agenda, other than that we have to break free from our US lock-ins in the digital markets. In other words, let’s do what hurts them most. Small companies from Europe, companies which actually pay their taxes in Europe, are excluded here. What had the Commission in mind?
In the past, back when the Commission did some laudable work with the likes of Neelie in the right chair, telling off the Commission would seem unreasonably disrespectful. But things have changed. Right now, for example, even the FSFE criticises the Commission by showing that it sets a bad example for others to follow. To quote:
In the Commission’s answer to Staes, EC Vice-President Maros Sefcovic argues that “[t]he Commission does not rely on (or is locked into) one single software vendor”, citing the fact that the Commission’s IT infrastructure uses software from many different vendors.
While lock-in is a problem that troubles many organisations, our next concern is quite specific to this case: We believe that the European Commission should have put out a public call for tender when it wanted a new software platform. Instead, the EC simply declares that the move to Windows 7 is just an “upgrade” – just a newer version of the same product.
If “it’s just an upgrade” becomes acceptable as an excuse to ignore the competition and cozy up to a single supplier, then Europe’s market is in trouble; and not just the one for software. Imagine a local administration that decides to have the town’s main street repaved by the same company that built it in the first place, saying that they’re just “upgrading” the road surface. No new competitor would ever get a foot in the door. Public bodies would hardly ever have to hold competitive bidding procedures for any type of product or service they’ve bought before. This simply cannot be right.
The foundation of Europe’s procurement rules, Directive 2004/18/EC, says that those rules are intended to guarantee the opening-up of public procurement to competition. But it looks like in this instance, the EC has found a way to sidestep that goal, letting inertia (let’s be kind here, ok?) take precedence over competition and long-term value for Europe’s citizens. The Commission itself feels the need to emphasise that “it always complies with public procurement legislation”. We’d certainly hope so.
It doesn’t help that the EC is obviously confused on the commercial nature of Free Software when it uses “open source” as the opposite of “commercial software”. Some people in the Commission seem to believe that there is no money to be made with Free Software. The many companies that have built their business on software freedom would certainly argue otherwise.
This is not the first such complaint from the FSFE.
Whatever happened to the European Commission, it is now in danger of earning notoriety just like NATO or the UN. If it allows itself to be steered by lobbyists and monopolies, then there is no longer need for it. Taxpayers just do not receive what they paid for, not even fines imposed on Microsoft for breaking the law [1, 2] (which has cost European citizens a lot of money over the years). We need the ‘old’ Neelie back — the assertive one, not the softened one. █