The Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) is urging workers at the European Parliament not to accept free licences to Microsoft programs, saying it would be a breach of ethics.
Microsoft is offering home-use licenses for Microsoft Office, Project (project management software) and Visio (a diagramming tool) through the Parliament's administration office. Such offers are not unusual in Microsoft's contracts with large organisations, but, said FSFE's Karsten Gerloff, "political institutions like the European Parliament are bound to higher standards."
The offer is for Parliament staffers only and will probably not be extended to elected members. However, "staffers are the ones who make the wheels turn. They're the ones who do all the legwork, and they control access to the MEPs," pointed out Gerloff.
"Competition and procurement issues aside, it doesn't seem proper that the people making the rules for the European market should accept gifts from the very companies they're regulating," he continued.
In March 2011, the European Commission was accused of favoritism as it decided to move internal IT systems in the European Institutions to Microsoft Windows 7 without holding a public tender. The move flies in the face of the Commission's own advice to avoid public procurement lock-in. FSFE is now concerned that the offer by Microsoft constitutes a bribe to increase further lock-in.
Taking advantage of the offer could also leave staffers open to accusations of copyright infringement says Gerloff. Microsoft's home use license is defined as "private use by the staff member concerned and his/her close family."
So the staffers can't even use it to prepare a work presentation at home or they would breach the licence, says Gerloff.
The European Parliament employs about 6,000 officials and other staff from the EU member states. It is not known how many have taken up the offer, but many say then have not even heard about it.