About the time you read this, the European Union will have grown by an additional 10 nations, eight of which were once part of the Soviet Union. It’s a time of great change for Europe, obviously, but also for the rest of the Western world. For the enterprise, at least, it also means that the world is becoming a simpler place. This is especially true for security managers.
The reason for the growing simplicity is no secret. Where once there were 11 sets of laws and practices governing the EU and the 10 new members, now there is one. You only need to follow the security rules for the EU, you must worry about the privacy requirements only for the EU, and your intellectual property is protected by EU rules. What could be simpler?
The reality, of course, is somewhat different. Just because the EU laws are now the standard for all 10 of these new members, that doesn’t mean things will actually work that way. In part because of the years of Soviet domination of their economies, eight of these 10 nations will need some time before everything runs like it does in the rest of Europe.
For example, in some portions of central Europe, official corruption is still widespread. And workers, especially in government, are sometimes still mired in the old, inefficient ways of carrying out their responsibilities.
Likewise, intellectual property, while protected by EU laws, is still a new concept for many in central Europe. When I was in Prague a decade ago, for example, it was nothing to see workers in downtown offices printing up copies of software documentation and creating illegal duplicates of disks. The reason they did this so openly was the lack of understanding that this was theft of property. That, coupled with the fact that both people and companies are much less wealthy in central Europe than they are in the original EU nations, made such theft common.
Things have improved greatly in the Czech Republic since I was there, but reform is still working its way through much of the remainder of the old bloc. Efforts by Microsoft and others to instill a belief in intellectual property and security are making inroads to what was once a freewheeling environment. Of course, not all of the new EU members are having this problem; Malta, for example, is a wonderfully urbane and progressive nation that should fit the EU like a glove.
While your business dealings with Europe will be simpler and have fewer problems relating to the security of information that crosses borders, and of privacy issues relating to your European business partners, you can still expect some bumps in the road. The new laws may be in place, but you’ll still need to proceed under the assumption that they might not be completely enforced.
Then again, you have to assume that in the United States as well, so maybe it’s not all that different after all.