The head of a new trade association representing European software vendors denied on Thursday that the group is a ‘Trojan horse’ organisation for Microsoft.

This is an unfair accusation, according to Jeremy Roche, chairman of the ESA (European Software Association). He acknowledged, however, that the group, which involves 26 software companies, first met at the instigation of Microsoft – and they had lunch with Bill Gates. But Roche insisted that the decision to launch the association was taken by the CEOs of the companies.

The aim of the association is to provide “a voice for the European software industry, which we have never been able to achieve because we are so fragmented as an industry”, Roche said at a press conference in Brussels.

While there are other IT industry associations, they have never been able to properly represent the interests of software vendors, he said. Roche is also CEO of Coda, a financial services software firm.

He added that open-source software is “key” to the companies in developing their products, but emphasised that the ESA is not focused on a single platform.

Roche said that the companies concerned identified the need to establish the association after discussions with representatives of the European Commission, which had alerted them to projects and initiatives they did not know about.

Among the association’s priorities will be the Commission’s i2010 initiative, to develop the EU’s IT sector and adapt the regulatory framework for increasing technology convergence.

ESA also hopes to become a member of Nessi (the Networked European Software and Services Initiative), which aims to develop the next generation of middleware for the provision of digital services. Currently, 13 companies are involved in Nessi, including Atos Origin, BT, IBM, HP, Nokia, Siemens and Thales.

Asked where ESA might take different positions on regulatory issues to existing IT associations, Roche could not give a specific example. On the controversial issue of software patents, for example, Roche said that the firms involved were aware that they did not know as much about the implications of patent law as they should, given its importance to their businesses. ESA would therefore have an educational role to play in ensuring its members were properly informed.

He added that ESA is setting up a public policy working group to discuss its position on key issues.

The association’s membership includes Microsoft, SAP AG, LogicaCMG and Business Objects, as well as a range of small and medium-sized companies such as Coda and Mamut.