If, like me, you aren’t overly familiar with the personalities and procedures of European Union jurisprudence, James Kanter has an eye opening article in today’s NY Times about the Court of First Instance where this week’s Microsoft antitrust appeal is being heard. The net is that the court is rather skeptical of the antitrust bureaucrats at the European Commission and regarded as pro-business:
In a series of recent cases, the court, which is hearing Microsoft’s appeal in its antitrust case this week, has chastised European Union officials, accusing them of using inadequate evidence to bar mergers, impose fines and force companies to share their intellectual property. Last December, it upheld a decision to block a proposed $42 billion merger between two other United States companies, General Electric and Honeywell International. But it also scolded European officials for making errors and it raised the bar on similar cases in the future.
Some lawyers say the court’s emergence as a check on overzealous European Union officials was long overdue, but some also worry that the regulators have become afraid to do their jobs aggressively, fearing the stigma of another defeat.
In recent cases, the court has saved companies hundreds of millions of euros by reducing fines for their involvement in cartels and for their attempts to block trade across national borders. European regulators have also made U-turns, like abandoning plans to block the purchase of P&O Princess Cruises of Britain by the United States cruise ship company Carnival in 2002.
Court scrutiny has left “the commission rocking back on its heels,” said Richard Wainwright, the head of the European Union commission’s team of competition lawyers until 2005 and now a London-based consultant with the law firm Allen & Overy.
More by following the link including speculation about why the full court removed the Microsoft case from the sole jurisdiction of a judge who has been critical of the court for “favoring business over society.” Closer:
“We already know that many of the judges, and President Vesterdorf in particular, are no longer willing to take E.U. officials’ stories of how they reached their conclusions at face value.”
Maybe there’s light for Microsoft at the end of the EU tunnel?