Microsoft/European Commission negotiate the purchase of licenses: Do as I say, not as I do

At the beginning of April, 2011, the European Commission confirmed it was negotiating with Microsoft to purchase licenses for the operating systems of 36.000 workstations, without any public tendering. April regrets a missed chance to improve the diversification of IT suppliers and to limit the lock-in in a given technology, though these principles were called for by the Commission itself.

The expiry of the contract between the Commission and Microsoft could have been an opportunity to open the market of the European institutions' office workstations through a public tender open to all. But the European Commission chose not to issue a public tender nor any other public procedure and instead chose a negotiated contract1, that allows it to negotiate with Microsoft the purchase of licenses without issuing a tender nor any competition, and therefore without the European Parliament and the European citizens having their say in the matter.

Though this decision is not illegal, it goes against the Commission's recommendations on transparency and openness regarding software purchase by public institutions. Vice-President of the EU Commission Neelie Kroes had in fact denounced in June 2010 the way "many authorities have found themselves unintentionally locked into proprietary technology for decades. After a certain point that original choice becomes so ingrained that alternatives risk being systematically ignored, no matter what the potential benefits. This is a waste of public money that most public bodies can no longer afford."2 The Commission appears to be locking itself into the practice it was itself denouncing only a few months ago.

Whereas many States, such as Great Britain (French link), are currently actively opening all of their software tenders through the adoption of openness rules and the use of open standards, April can only regret that the Commission is not following its own recommendations.

  • 1. This way of proceeding is an exception to the rules of public procurement, and it allows to extend an already existing contract or to renew it without any new tendering procedure. Instead, the principle of public markets requires public tenders to be open by describing the administration's requirements only in fuctional and technical terms, and following which the institutions can chose the solution corresponding to its needs at the best price. The derogatory procedure used in this case allows the Commission to sign again without any publicity or parliamentary control.
  • 2. Speech by Vice-President of the European Commission Neelie Kroes on open standards and interoperability within the Open Forum Europe 2010 in Brussels.