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EU Intends To Fine Microsoft For Abuses

The European Union says it will penalize Microsoft for past antitrust abuses, regardless of whether the company changes its future business practices.
BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) -- The European Union intends to fine Microsoft for past antitrust abuses regardless of how the software giant changes its future business practices, an EU spokesman said Thursday.

"We are minded to impose a fine for the past and minded to impose remedies for the future, and we will adopt a final decision which does exactly that," said Tilman Lueder, a spokesman for the EU's antitrust office, the European Commission.

The EU can fine violators up to 10 percent of their worldwide sales--which would be more than $3 billion in Microsoft's case. In practice, fines have never exceeded 1 percent, which would still be an EU record but easily managed by a company with cash reserves of $49 billion.

The EU sent Microsoft a statement of objections Wednesday, accusing it of trying to monopolize new markets, namely servers, which tie desktop computers together, and audiovisual players, which allow users to play music and video on their computers.

Arguing that new market surveys found the abuses continuing despite the settlement last year of the landmark antitrust case against Microsoft in the United States, the EU spelled out steps it wanted Microsoft to take to address those complaints.

Microsoft was given until the end of September to respond in writing, and it may also request an oral hearing, but Lueder said he expected the four-year-long case to be over in a matter of months.

Tilman said the commission was ready to impose remedies unless the company voluntarily complies with the proposals put forward.

"Our final statement of objections reinforces our previous conclusions and except if the company comes up with very convincing counter-arguments in the final round, this is our decision," he said.