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Thursday, 14 May 2009

Will Mega-Fines Ever Apply To The Environment?

The European Commission has just fined Intel 1.06 billion euro for alleged competition violations, with Competition Commissioner Kroes claiming that Intel had "harmed millions of European consumers by deliberately acting to keep competitors out of the market for over five years".  It's interesting to see the Commission's definition of harm.  Consumers were "harmed" because they had to pay more.  Their health was not damaged and their environment was not degraded because of the alleged actions of Intel.  But they had to pay more.

Buying a computer is effectively free choice.  We would never advocate a return to the pre-PC era but your choice of computer is just that, it's your choice.  Distorting the market is clearly not helpful, but this result shows our overreaching obsession with consumerism.

If only this size of fine were handed out to companies or governments responsible for environmental damage.  If only harm were defined as environmental and health damage to citizens, rather than as having to pay a few more euro for something they anyway didn't need.  Citizens, despite their collective voice, have little control over the global environment and the impact it has on their health.  And yet, it seems hard to imagine a situation where mega-fines of up to 10% of turnover would be handed out for violations of environmental law, as they can be with competition law.  According to the Commission, Intel got off lightly with a fine of 4.15% of turnover.

For the news story see http://www.euractiv.com/en/infosociety/eu-fines-intel-record-106/article-182301.

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