Kroes calls for open standards in eGovernment

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In an unusual move, EU Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes today (10 June) backed the use of open software for eGovernment and called on public authorities not to impose proprietary standards on citizens.

Kroes’s speech follows a petition filed in May by the open source community against the European Parliament. The institution stands accused of using only closed technology, therefore obliging citizens to buy specific proprietary software to access its documents.

The petitioners made clear reference to live web-streaming of the Parliament’s plenary sessions “which is currently only available to those using Microsoft’s MediaPlayer,” reads the appeal (see EURACTIV 22/05/08).

Speaking this morning (10 June) at a seminar hosted by OpenForum Europe in Brussels, Kroes clearly suggested that public authorities should use open standards rather than proprietary software that could generate anti-competitive practices and harm citizens. “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.”

She praised the Munich authorities, who were represented at the event, for having chosen open standards for their eGovernment activities and insisted this should be the line of the European institutions. “The Commission must do its part. It must not rely on one vendor, it must not accept closed standards and it must refuse to become locked into a particular technology,” she said.

She cited Apple as an example of a company which fails to apply interoperable standards, referring to its iPod music players and iTunes digital stores. However, she also recognised that the market is able to overcome any anti-competitive concerns related to these cases on its own.

Her line toward Microsoft was nevertheless less conciliatory. Without directly mentioning the name of the company, the commissioner underlined the competition problems emerging in some technology markets. 

“The Commission has never before had to issue two periodic penalty payments in a competition case,” she said, clearly referring to the Redmond giant. Last February the EU executive imposed a €899 million fine on Microsoft for alleged abuse of its dominant position, a move against which the company appealed. 

The company had already been fined €497.2 million in 2004 for anticompetitive practices, a figure that was increased by €280.5 million in 2006 due to Microsoft’s non-compliance (see EURACTIV 28/02/08).

During her speech, Kroes also spoke out against Office Open XML (OOXML), Microsoft’s format for documents, which was recognised by the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) as an international standard in April, putting it on the same footing as the competing open software ODF (see EURACTIV 03/04/08).

“If voting in the standard-setting context 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 said. The Commission is currently carrying out a competition inquiry into OOXML.

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