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Microsoft Bails On EC Browser Hearing Due To Schedule Conflict

In the continuing game of cat-and-mouse, Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) has refused to attend an upcoming European Commission antitrust hearing against its web browser, angered that many commission executives would be absent from the meeting.

MS already lodged a written case with EC competition commissioner Neelie Kroes’ department in April, arguing against Kroes’ January preliminary view that Internet Explorer hurts the web by being tied to Windows and by non-compliance with standards. The company had accepted Kroes’ offer of attending an oral hearing in Brussels to present its case in person but, after the commission set a hearing date of June 3 to 5, has backed out, complaining the meeting coincides with the big International Competition Network (ICN) summit in Zurich. (Surely they could have planned this with an Outlook calendar invite?).

Microsoft’s deputy chief lawyer Dave Heiner wrote on the company’s lobbying blog: “Holding the hearing at a time when key (European) officials are out of the country would deny Microsoft our effective right to be heard and hence deny our ‘rights of defence’ under European law. We do not think it makes sense to proceed if so many of the most important EC officials and national competition authorities cannot attend.”

The EC (via Reuters) interprets this as Microsoft having withdrawn its request for an oral hearing. It means Microsoft’s chances of convincing the EC, and avoiding yet another huge fine, are lessened. After a case that dated back to 1998, the EC fined MS

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