Firefox has overtaken Internet Explorer to become the number one browser in Europe, reports analytics company StatCounter. According to December figures, Firefox had 38.11% of the European market share, compare to IE's 37.52%.

It's the first time that IE has been knocked out of the number one position in a major geographical area, says Aodhan Cullen, StatCounter's CEO, who points to the growth of Google's Chrome as the reason for the shift. It isn't that Firefox is gaining steam, but rather than IE is losing users to Chrome.

Chrome is still in third place in Europe, but it has grown substantially over the past year: up from 5.06% in December 2009 to 14.58% in December 2010. "We are probably seeing the impact of the agreement between European Commission competition authorities and Microsoft, to offer EU users a choice and menu of browsers from March last," says Cullen. As part of its anti-trust settlement with the EU, Microsoft has implemented a "browser ballot" as part of Windows set-up that gives users a choice of browsers rather than preferential treatment for IE.

IE still retains its lead in the browser market in North America with 48.92% of users, followed by Firefox at 26.7%, Chrome at 12.82%, and Safari at 10.16%.

StatCounter's figures are based on aggregate data on a sample of over 15 billion page views per month.