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Awarded honorary degree to Sir Bill

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The successor to Mario Monti as the European Commission's competition commissioner once gave an honorary degree to Bill Gates.

As president of of Nijenrode University, Neelie Kroes gave Gates the award in 1996. Once she takes up the post in November, she'll be responsible for enforcing the controversial settlement. On Friday Kroes admitted she wouldn't have given the honorary degree if she hadn't thought Gates was "doing a good job".

When the degree was awarded, Microsoft had settled an earlier antitrust investigation with the Federal Trade Commission which alleged that Microsoft had "unlawfully maintained its monopoly of personal computer operating systems and has unreasonably restrained trade".

Although Kroes' accession to the post is regarded as a formality, the EC is making a token gesture of accountability by holding hearings vetting her appointment in September. These could be far more interesting than previously expected. The former Dutch transport minister has previously served on the boards of Volvo and Lucent, and has vowed to bring the EC's approach to antitrust issues closer to the United States'. Which, since 2001, has yet to meet a monopoly it didn't like. In June, the DoJ's lead antitrust attorney Hew Pate criticized the EC's decision.

"There is a greater emphasis [in the United States] on requiring that dominant firms limit themselves to "gentlemanly" competition," said Pate.

In March, the EC ordered Microsoft to pay a fine, and make some bundling and disclosure promises. But the move was criticized by open source advocates who objected to Microsoft being allowed to charge "reasonable remuneration" for access to its protocols. But for now, it's business as usual: the sanctions have been suspended pending an appeal by the software giant. ®

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