11/5/2009
06:19 PM
Bob Evans
Bob Evans
Commentary

Global CIO: Oracle Trapped By EU Politics As Sun Employees Suffer

As thousands of Sun employees face layoffs, the EU ninnies focus on conjuring up an outcome that will make them seem less pathetic than they truly are.



The European Union's prolonged dithering over whether Oracle can acquire Sun has been centered less on technology and competitive balance and more on—surprise, surprise!—political gamesmanship and a shameless effort to help the head EU ninny save face rather than do what's right, reports the New York Times.

Were it not for the fact that thousands of Sun employees are losing their jobs while the popinjays of the EU flit about and make life miserable for any American software company callow enough to try to advance above its station in the EU pecking order, this whole pathetic soap opera would be almost funny.

As I wrote a couple of months ago, the real issue here is not fairness or technology or customers; rather, it is the EU's odious quest for power, for control, for relevance, and for authority:

So even for you Oracle-haters out there, please don't take too much joy out of this travesty, because if the EC is able to string Oracle along for three or four months on such disgracefully groundless claims, the busybodies will be further emboldened the next time plans for a merger are tossed into their playpen. And in that case, the company they choose to screw—because they can—just might be yours.

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But don't take my word for it; here's an excerpt from the New York Times, which itself seems to be gushing over the EU's simply splendid continental sophistication:

By confronting Oracle, E.U. regulators risk ushering in a new era of trans-Atlantic tensions over antitrust law. Yet letting Oracle off the hook would smack of weakness after Neelie Kroes, the E.U.'s outgoing competition commissioner, spent the past weeks trying to goad some of Oracle's top executives into making concessions.

The dilemma has prompted speculation that the best outcome for Ms. Kroes would be for Oracle to drop its interest in buying Sun, relieving the regulators of the need to make a choice.

"Neither path Ms. Kroes faces is a pretty one, and yet this is the decision she might end up being remembered by," said Spyros Pappas of the law firm Pappas & Associates in Brussels. "Probably the best escape for her would be for Oracle to cancel the deal."

Now, folks, I certainly can't claim to be the most high-brow citizen of the world, and perhaps all of this gilded-corridor gamesmanship is simply de riguer among the grandees of Brussels and the EU. So forgive me if I get more than a little hacked off because some self-absorbed nanny-state bureaucrats are wasting a lot of time posturing and thereby causing thousands of Sun employees to lose their jobs.

And for what reason? Because EU big-shot Neelie Kroes failed in her misguided attempt to strong-arm Oracle executives? Because Kroes might look weak if she doesn't succeed in trying to buffalo Oracle into thinking that it has to kowtow to bureaucrats before it can try to serve its customers with an expanded product line?

Or maybe we should all feel it's okay for those thousands of Sun employees to lose their jobs—and for many thousands more Sun and Oracle shareholders to lose tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in equity—because "this is the decision she (Kroes) might end up being remembered by?"

Well hell, that would make it okay, right? What's the loss of a few thousand American high-tech jobs compared to chief E.U. nanny Neelie Kroes leaving a legacy that pleases her?

What kind of madness is this? What kind of rabbit-hole have we fallen down when the "solution," as posed by the Times without any apparent awareness of the gross unfairness of such a plan, is this:

The dilemma has prompted speculation that the best outcome for Ms. Kroes would be for Oracle to drop its interest in buying Sun, relieving the regulators of the need to make a choice.

Please note as well the too-bad, so-sad tone adopted by the Times, which in this piece raises its vaunted obtuseness to unprecedented levels with a bit of moral equivalence that is simply breathtaking:

While backing down risks a loss of credibility for Ms. Kroes, continuing to oppose the case could leave her open to charges of exacerbating unemployment.

Meanwhile, Sun has announced layoffs, and the company’s stock price has fallen off because of the delays in the case.

So as the Times sees it, there's a perfect equivalence between (a) Kroes "backing down" and thereby risking "a loss of credibility," and (b) the layoff of 3,000 Sun employees and the plunge in its stock price?

If that's the case, then it would appear that Oracle, in its engagement with the EU, has discovered a vital lesson in global affairs that can be summed up in this bit of backwoods Americana: if you lie down with dogs, don't be surprised if you wake up with fleas.

In the minds of the EU parity-wonks, all this talk about competition and fairness and technology is just a lot of nonsense. For the EU, it's not about right or wrong—it's about appearances, and about trying to maintain the illusion that they stand for anything other than their own vacuous self-importance.

So stand fast, Oracle, and good luck to you in your efforts to complete the merger, save as many jobs as you can, and begin a new chapter in combination with Sun. I sincerely hope—as do many many others who find the EU's behavior utterly contemptible—that those shiftless bureaucrats don't string this out so long that you have no alternative but to call off the merger, which would represent a wretched outcome for you but a far more wretched outcome for the many thousands more Sun employees who'll lose their jobs so that Neelie Kroes can save her face.

P.S.—In this column, I did not go deeply into the technology issues supposedly under consideration by the EU (that is, when they're not trying to figure out how to help Kroes save her face and cover her backside) because we've covered those in detail in earlier columns. If you'd like to get a better fix on those details, below are links to two related columns that will give you extensive background and perspective. The main issue—absurd though it is—that the EU was supposedly investigating was whether Oracle would squelch the MySQL database that Sun now controls, thereby depriving customers from that option so that Oracle could shove down their throats its own more-expensive database. The enormous flaw in that argument, however, is that MySQL is an open-source product, so Oracle couldn't squelch it no matter how hard Oracle tried.

Recommended Reading:

Global CIO: Oracle Nailed By EU Protectionism As IBM and HP Raid Sun

Oracle, MySQL Not Competitors, Says Ingres CEO (by my superb colleague Charlie Babcock

Global CIO: Can Oracle's Larry Ellison Keep MySQL From EU Whiners?

GlobalCIO Bob Evans is senior VP and director of InformationWeek's Global CIO unit.

To find out more about Bob Evans, please visit his page.

For more Global CIO perspectives, check out Global CIO,
or write to Bob at [email protected].

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