Originally the European Economic Community was just that – a community that enabled the easy trade between the member states set up in 1957 by the Treaty of Rome. Given that Europe is a fairly small area geographically with multiple land borders, it made sense to simplify the business of doing business with neighbours. Over time it has expanded its jurisdiction considerably with common laws, common currency and even the talk of a common army. There is also a national anthem for the European Union (as it became in 1993) and which, this year, at the start of the new Parliament Session, the Brexiter Candidates from the UK refused to honour, preferring instead to turn their backs stating that the EU was a collation of nations, not a nation-state in its own right.
Britain may be leaving the EU on October 31st 2019, if the newly elected Prime Minister Boris Johnson can be trusted, even if it means crashing out without a negotiated exit. This promise is already under fire, as any decision needs to be agreed in Westminster and no further reopening of negotiations is being entertained by Europe. However, if Britain is in or out, or even doing the hokey pokey, it still has to operate under the newly installed GDPR rules if it wishes to continue to do business within EU markets.
In that way, Britain will join the rest of the world in looking to do business in the EU. The emphasis on protecting EU citizens has a serious impact on how non-EU businesses must operate within the EU.
Why is there such a desire to do business in the EU, especially in light of the new GDPR legislation with its terrible bite? Already two major corporates have their knuckles rapped in hefty fines. British Airways was hit by €205.7 million and the Marriott group 111.5 million. Interestingly, both fines were imposed by the British Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
The reason why the EU is still a hugely attractive marketplace is just this sophistication. Business in the EU attracts high margins, is conducted using safe commercial practices and avails of strong legal protection. Any company wishing to go up the value chain will by default have customers in the EU. The protections swing both ways.
Europe showed its hand early in 2015 when protection for its citizens began to gain attention. A Eurobarometer survey carried out by Eurostat in 2015 interviewed almost 300,000 citizens from all EU states and found that more than 81% of respondents felt that they do not have complete control over their personal data. In the same survey, just 89% of respondents believed they should have the same rights and protections over their personal information, regardless of the country in which the organisation offering the service is established. This point is critical to the workings of GDPR. Furthermore, some 69% or respondents believed that the collection of their data should require their explicit approval.
Guiding principles behind the legislation also include the protection of children with regard to data that might live online, long after injudicious behaviour has been put aside as they passaged into adulthood.
Corporates wishing to do business in the EU understand the payoff between getting access to a mature, wealthy and discerning marketplace, and a populous that demand the highest standards of privacy and data protection are met.
It can be a tricky tightrope to walk. The trust goes both ways. The 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer addresses the increasing demands on trust – whether enshrined in law or desired by surveyed stakeholders.
Trust is a slippery connotation. The Edelman report points to a dramatic shift in trust levels over the past two decades. Twenty years ago, Trust trickled down from above, like its sister in economics, and both have largely been discredited since. Ten years ago, subjects surveyed by Edelmen looked to peers for Trust. This year, the search for Trust has swivelled dramatically to the respondents for closer relationships with their employers in order to find Trust.
The increasing dependence on Trust is also not without conditions. Respondents demand that Employers do good, that they deliver for society and not just the shareholders, and ultimately they called upon their employers to speak up for and on their behalf. Interestingly, technology employers still feature as the most trusted sector – but only just. The tech lash is happening, although respondents are increasingly differentiating between social media tech giants and companies that deliver other tech solutions.
Europe remains the most trusted place to do business, Trust in the European Union increased in 22 out of 26 nations surveyed globally by Edelman, making Europe the most trusted region globally.
Which brings us back full circle to personal data and its protection. To operate one of the most trusted business environments globally, the citizens of that marketplace also have to be protected.
The irony is that the two large fines, first out of the tracks, relate to centralised databases and the management of same. Both corporations enjoy high levels of brand awareness and trust – but they were let down by their technology. If there was a way to hold data in a trusted manner and not accessible to easy hacking, that would be a great idea.
Oh, there is. Meet Europechain…
Trust in a trustless world.