Mom, Apple Pie and Microsoft

In its initial response to the European Commission’s antitrust ruling, Microsoft sounded what may become a central theme as it makes its case in the court of public opinion.

“Microsoft is an American company, the complainants are American companies, the software is designed in the U.S., and the U.S. government already dealt with these issues,” Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer told reporters in a press conference following the release of the ruling.

The refrain was echoed by the U.S. Department of Justice, with assistant Attorney General, R. Hewitt Pate, weighing in with a point-by-point rebuttal to the EU ruling. The statement detailed the DoJ’s own lengthy investigation. “The United States’ Final Judgment provides clear and effective protection for competition and consumers by preventing affirmative misconduct by Microsoft,” Pate stated.

In a clear rebuke to the EU, Pate wrote, “The U.S. experience tells us that the best antitrust remedies eliminate impediments to the healthy functioning of competitive markets without hindering successful competitors or imposing burdens on third parties, which may result from the EC’s remedy.”

Washington State Senator Patty Murphy wants the EU to stay out of America’s business. “Today’s ruling by the EU is yet another example of Europe’s consistent harassment of American industry and policies that support our economic growth,” she said in a statement. “From agriculture to airplanes, and now software, Europe is attempting to re-write the marketplace to suit its desires.” She urged the Administration to “bring the Commission back to the table and settle these issues.”

Unfortunately, aside from flag-waving, there’s not much the administration, the DoJ or Congress can do except apply diplomatic pressure to the Court of First Instance.

“This is not a legal question,” said Robert Levy, senior fellow in constitutional studies of the Cato Institute, a non-profit organization promoting limited government, individual liberty, free markets and peace. “The EU is doing what they have the right and power to do. We’re talking policy, not hard law.” Microsoft is a corporate contributor to Cato.

A DoJ spokesperson declined to comment on whether the office will lobby the President or senior officials, and Pate’s statement implies a long diplomatic process. “The Justice Department will continue to work constructively with the EU to develop sound antitrust enforcement policies that benefit consumers on both sides of the Atlantic,” he wrote.

Senator Murray was not available for comment, but her press secretary, Alex Glass, said that, aside from a call to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, Murray hadn’t taken or planned any action to follow up her statement. “It’s up to the administration to stand up and say we’ve already taken care of this in the U.S.,” Glass said.

Levy said that all the administration can do is begin or increase pursuit of the issues with foreign regulators, and, as he said, “try to accelerate the process of introducing some common sense [into international antitrust regulations].”

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