Five Questions for Nanna-Louise Wildfang Linde – Microsoft’s newly appointed Vice President of European Government Affairs
Nanna-Louise, you have recently taken the helm of Microsoft’s government affairs and public policy work in the EU. Can you share with us your professional journey to date?
My first role was in a major law firm in Denmark, where I was a commercial attorney specializing in antitrust law. I was active in the professional community, giving lectures and publishing articles – and that’s how Microsoft became aware of me.
I began as the company’s legal director for Denmark and Norway back in 2005. Over the following years, I would be charged with overseeing different territories across Europe. In 2012, I assumed the role of Assistant General Counsel, leading the Western European North and Central team responsible for corporate, external and legal affairs, including government relations. Most recently, I oversaw legal matters and government relations in 32 countries in Central and Eastern Europe.
Taking on external affairs – responsible for engaging with governments as well as regulators – marked an important shift in my career. I am passionate about the law and I also get so much energy from connecting with people and building partnerships. So, being able to leverage my law background combined with my passion for creating dialogue with people and building trust was, and still is, incredibly fulfilling.
What impact would you like to have in your new position?
It’s a very interesting time to take on this role. Europe is facing a confluence of remarkable challenges. We’re emerging from the throes of the pandemic. There are the broad ramifications surrounding the war in Ukraine. We’re in a race to avert a climate tipping point.
Digital technology has never played a bigger role in our daily lives, and we believe that tech innovation has a crucial role to play in helping society address these issues. For that to happen, there needs to be more collaboration and debate amongst policymakers, businesses and civil society. These issues are far too big and complex to be addressed in silos.
At the same time, it’s important to note that people will not fully avail themselves of technology they don’t trust. For that, we need regulation that puts guardrails in place to protect peoples’ rights and ensures businesses are operating in a fair, open marketplace where they can thrive and innovate.
It’s equally important to acknowledge that the pace of innovation continues to grow exponentially. This makes it challenging to craft legislation that is both effective and “future proofed”. For example, over the last several years I’ve worked with governments in Central and Eastern Europe around the issue of responsible AI. We share a deep belief that this technology must be designed and implemented in a way that is inclusive, accountable, reliable and fair. In other words, the technology should benefit all people.
While that’s simple enough to say, it’s not so simple to do. It requires different points of view and different areas of expertise if you’re going to get it right for the long term. Policy influencers, tech leaders, NGOs and academics all need a voice.
The issue of strategic autonomy has been receiving greater attention in recent times – what is your perspective as a European working for a major U.S. technology company?
The discussions in Europe about strategic autonomy have been ongoing for a number of years. There are many reasons for this: The somewhat challenging transatlantic relationship during the previous U.S. administration, the pandemic as well as the war in Ukraine and subsequent energy crisis. These discussions of course encompass the digital sphere. There is increased scrutiny around the extent to which European businesses and governmental bodies are relying on the technology provided by U.S. companies. That’s valid and another reason why it’s so important for us to earn and maintain the trust of our customers.
European governments and businesses should never compromise on their capacity for self-determination as they look to digitize and become data led. Approaches around how to best protect sovereignty vary, however. Sometime the only way to maintain it is by working with others, including trusted cloud providers who have the ability to disburse and distribute digital operations and data assets across borders.
For example, during the earlier stages of the war against Ukraine, Russia targeted the governmental data center with cruise missiles and cyberattacks. The Ukraine government was able to successfully maintain its civil and military operations by pre-emptively moving its digital infrastructure out of the country and to the public cloud. Vital government data is now hosted in data centers across Europe, and we’re proud to have supported the government in achieving greater cyber-resiliency and digital sovereignty in this way.
Your first few weeks in the role took you to New York to participate in discussions on the margins of the UN General Assembly and you also attended the Athens Democracy Forum where many of the issues you just talked about were addressed. What new perspectives have you brought back with you?
We have a large global community that is deeply vested in protecting democracy. The war in Ukraine shows how high the stakes are. I had many discussions about how technology can help strengthen a nation’s security against cyber threats, protect the integrity of elections and mitigate the threat of misinformation campaigns. There was a real sense that we need to act now as a collective. We owe this to future generations.
The conversations I’ve been having over the past several weeks – at the UN General Assembly and elsewhere – have been a timely reminder for me that the winning strategy for protecting democratic societies is working in partnership. Closing ourselves off and pulling away from the global stage is not an option. We need each other. The challenges we are facing collectively are too big – and the stakes are too high – for any of us to go it alone.
One last question: what excites you about this new opportunity?
At a fundamental level, I’m excited to play a part in ensuring technology actively advances the core values of the EU – freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law. Having worked with teams across Europe for many years I have a great appreciation of the EU not just as an economic and political union, but as a community united by democratic principles and values.
Another important reason to be excited about this role is my team. I must say I couldn’t be working with a more talented, dedicated group of individuals with incredibly varied backgrounds. And it’s clear to me we share a common mission: to be a constructive, helpful voice on tech regulation in the EU, while supporting the success of our customers in the region. The bottom line: If any team is ready to tackle the challenges, I talked about just now, it’s this one.