The EU and Microsoft’s 20-year marriage

The recent revelations published by Mediapart, on hacking of the European Parliament’s messaging service could have been the occasion for a thorough review of the computer security of the European institutions. Better timing is hard to imagine. Pressed by MPs and associations that have been seeking for years to terminate the contracts binding them to Microsoft, and faced with the revelations of Edward Snowden on the global espionage network set up by the United States, these institutions now have proof of how easy it is to hack into a messaging service. Next year the European Commission, which manages contracts for all the union’s institutions, will have the opportunity to renegotiate its contracts with the American software giant, its main supplier for the past 20 years.

For now, the European Commission has turned a deaf ear and does not want to see the problem lurking in the background, dismissing the hacking into the European Parliament as a “technical” problem. Questioned on his motives by Mediapart, the hacker, however, insisted there was a intentional political dimension to his act. He did not, he said, set out to hack into any specific software. Outraged by the politicians’ failure to respond to the Prism scandal, he wanted to ”shake them up a little” to ”raise awareness” and ”who knows, make things better for the next parliament”.

It is this same European Commission that will be responsible for negotiating with Microsoft the two main contracts that come up for renewal in 2014. All the same, the firm founded by Bill Gates has managed to remain the main partner of the European institutions since 1993. The contract has been extended six times, in the total absence of competing bidders, because no call for tenders went out before the deal was signed.

Negotiated procedures

Public procurement is still framed by a “financial regulation” that provides, by default, that any contract must first come up for competitive tendering. The texts, though, also provide for certain exemptions that allow the Commission to choose a company directly, within the framework of a “negotiated procedure”, particularly if that company is capable of meeting all of the demands by itself. And so far Microsoft has always managed to take advantage of one of these “negotiated procedures”.

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About the Author

The Corner
The Corner has a team of on-the-ground reporters in capital cities ranging from New York to Beijing. Their stories are edited by the teams at the Spanish magazine Consejeros (for members of companies’ boards of directors) and at the stock market news site Consenso Del Mercado (market consensus). They have worked in economics and communication for over 25 years.

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