The Bush administration was philosophically opposed to antitrust enforcement, unless it involved price-fixing. So for the last eight years we had American tech companies like Oracle, AMD, IBM and others running to Brussels with complaints about other American companies — Microsoft for using its dominance of desktop computing to hamstring software rivals, leading computer chip-maker Intel for leveraging its dominant market share to offer rebates that kept computer-makers like Dell from buying rival AMD’s processors.
With antitrust banished in the Bush years, Brussels reveled in the attention and influence as every American tech company with a grievance rushed to the Berylamont to pour out their heats. The Clinton-era policies seemed to move overseas, with the European Commission lowering the boom on near-monopolies when the Bush administration would not. In 2008 it levied a $1.35 billion Euro fine against Microsoft for anti-competitive practices, on top of a previously $1.2 billion euro fine for flouting EU rules. Todays reports augur another big fine soon against Intel.
Now, newly confirmed Assistant Attorney General for the Antitrust Division Christine Varney has stepped up to the plate with speeches this morning at the Center for American Progress and on Tuesday at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. According to Steve Labaton at the New York Times, Varney - an original mover-and-shaker behind the US Microsoft browser case in the 1990s — will announce a clean break with Bush.
In the speeches, Ms. Varney is expected to explicitly warn judges and litigants in antitrust lawsuits not involving the government to ignore the Bush administration’s policies, which were formally outlined in a report by the Justice Department last year.
While Ms. Varney is not expected to mention any specific companies or industries vulnerable under the new policy, those who have talked to her about the speech say she is aiming at agriculture, energy, health care, technology and telecommunications companies