Sixty years ago, on the 25th of March 1957, European politicians gathered in Rome to lay the blueprint for the European Union as we know it today. This momentous occasion ushered in decades of peace and prosperity, and we at Microsoft are proud to join in the Treaties of Rome anniversary celebrations.
Our success as a company has been closely linked to the success of the European project. We’ve always supported the fundamental ideal of a union of European nations and peoples, even if we’ve sometimes disagreed with the EU on specific issues, and paid some record fines along the way. When all is said and done, the arguments in favor of the European Union far outweigh those against.
Microsoft’s own European journey began in 1982 when we opened a headquarters in London – our first outside the U.S. At the time, the company employed just 128 people worldwide. Today, 25,000 of our employees live and work in Europe. Our main European operations are based in Dublin, Ireland. And our business is increasingly rooted in cloud computing – technologies which will transform Europe’s economy.
I vividly remember my first business visit to Brussels. It was in 1995 and I had recently started working for Microsoft in Paris. Brad Smith – now Microsoft’s President and Chief Legal Counsel – and I travelled to Brussels for meetings with EU officials. But on that occasion, we also had another very particular mission: to introduce Stuart ‘Stu’ Eizenstat, the U.S. Ambassador to the EU, to the most exciting new technology of the time – the World Wide Web. Our demo equipment tripped the circuit breaker and we literally turned off the lights, but the power of the Web to transform society was evident. Over twenty years later, I’ve come full circle, living and working full time in Brussels to try to help shape a regulatory framework for cloud computing.
It seems fitting to recall this anecdote on EU Digital Day. Tremendous technological leaps forward have been made in a relatively short time. But it’s likely that there are plenty more to come. As digital has become increasingly interwoven into the fabric of societies and citizen’s lives across the globe, Brussels’ significance has grown.
Today, the EU is the center of regulation for the ICT industry, setting standards and norms for the rest of the world and exporting policies on key issues such as privacy, security and competition law. Amidst the ongoing debate about the purpose of the EU, setting rules for the technology sector which benefit Europeans and the European economy is an achievement to be proud of. In our industry we have a saying, “Where the U.S. talks, Europe acts”. This is good a thing for us, too, because rules help people trust our technology.
Respectful and constructive transatlantic relations are a necessity for the data economy to work properly. The EU-U.S. Privacy Shield is just one example of how Europe and the U.S. can successfully work together. This agreement protects European’s privacy rights in the U.S., whilst allowing U.S. companies to offer their services in Europe and create jobs at home and abroad.
If both sides of the Atlantic are to seize the opportunities offered by the digital transformation, then we must narrow – not widen – the gap between Brussels and Washington D.C. This week, as the EU reflects on its past and looks to its future, it’s worth remembering how transatlantic relations grounded in mutual respect, trust and openness have been and will be key to our common wellbeing. Microsoft’s focus going forward is to help make sure existing bridges between Brussels and Washington D.C. stay open and to help build new ones for even closer cooperation in future.