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Speech at the Microsoft 20th Anniversary Dinner in Dublin Castle

 

I am delighted to be here with you tonight to celebrate the first twenty years of Microsoft in Ireland.  It is great to see that so many have travelled from Microsoft around the world to be here, and in particular Steve Ballmer, the CEO of Microsoft Corporation, whom I am delighted to meet again. 

As you know, I had the pleasure of being with you earlier this year to mark this important anniversary in Sandyford.  I don’t need to tell you that these have been very successful years for Microsoft Ireland.  Since you first established the Microsoft European Operations Centre here twenty years ago, it has grown to provide key support in a staggering 85 countries. 

The growth and success of Microsoft Ireland has coincided with – and played an important role in – a dramatic transformation in the Irish economy.  The Ireland in which Microsoft chose to invest 20 years ago was a very different country.  It was a time when we had low growth, high inflation, and mounting emigration.  Yet, at a time when few could see a way out of Ireland’s problems, Microsoft saw the potential in Ireland and put its faith in investment here.  And you were right.  Ireland in the last 20 years has changed beyond recognition.  We have become the most consistently successful economy in Europe for the past decade.  We have strong and consistent growth, low inflation, and have become a country of immigration rather than emigration.

As you in Microsoft know well, success in today’s economy is never to be taken for granted.  In a constantly changing world, innovation, research, and adaptation are vital.  For this reason, your decision to locate the new Research and Development Centre here is particularly welcome.  Research and Development are essential in today’s global economy, and in developing the knowledge economy of the future.  The fact that the work of the new Centre will involve co-operation with Microsoft research centres in India and China is the perfect example of where the future lies, and the role that Ireland can play in it.

In order to be a part of that future, we need to invest in infrastructure, and above all in people, to develop the knowledge and skills necessary to drive the economy in years to come.  We in Government have therefore made Research and Development central to our strategy for future development. 

We are investing €2.5 billion in technology, innovation and scientific research over the period 2000 to 2006 under the National Development Plan.  At the same time, we are working to develop the skills base to fuel further development, particularly through Science Foundation Ireland.  In all of this work, it is crucial that we ensure a clear overall vision. That is why earlier this year I established a new Cabinet Committee on Science, Technology and Innovation to ensure the best possible capture of a whole of Government perspective on this vital area.   

On the EU front, the Lisbon Agenda provides a framework for Member States to work together in support of jobs, growth, social cohesion and the protection of the environment.  I think that we would all agree that one of the problems with the first five years of the Lisbon Agenda is that it did not deliver on the challenges set in March 2000.

Earlier this year, all European leaders reaffirmed our commitment to the goals of the Lisbon Agenda.  We agreed to focus on just two urgent priorities – growth and employment. 

In today’s globalised economy, the only way to generate sufficient growth is by boosting our international competitiveness. We need to stay ahead of the globalisation game.  The process of globalisation will not stop while the Union deals with its internal agenda. It is clear from the debate in the Member States on the European Constitution that the challenges of globalisation are making themselves felt across the Union, and at all levels of society. 

This is why the revitalisation of the Union’s Lisbon Agenda must be implemented and pursued with great determination.

I already said that competitiveness is essential for Europe. I firmly believe that Europe must become more competitive in its actions as well as its words.  We must accept that the global picture is important, given that the EU now competes directly with other regions of the world for mobile investment in knowledge and research.

Our state aids regime must take account of this, so that EU countries are not disadvantaged in competing for investment. The review of state aid rules, which is being carried out in the context of the Commission’s State Aid Action Plan, must be Lisbon-sensitive if Europe is to remain an attractive location for future global investment.

We are all aware that our regulatory infrastructure is one factor that has an effect on our competitiveness.  This regulatory infrastructure includes a range of institutions as well as rules and regulations, which originate at international, European and domestic level.    Traditionally Ireland has had a relatively light regulatory framework, which has encouraged companies such as Microsoft to invest here. But in recent times concerns have been raised about the burden of regulation on business. 

While I would argue that regulation is essential to prevent market failures, to ensure the health and welfare of the citizen, the worker, the consumer and of business itself, I also recognise the need to ensure that our regulatory framework remains flexible, proportionate and up to date.  

The Government’s approach to regulation, in line with the six principles we set out in our 2004 White Paper, Regulating Better, is simply that we should demonstrate that regulation is necessary, that it is proportionate and that it has been developed in a transparent manner.  The recent introduction of Regulatory Impact Analysis, which requires officials to examine the impacts of key proposals in a number of areas, including national competitiveness and business compliance costs, should help address these goals.  Of course, we must also revisit legislation and regulation to ensure it is still achieving its intended purpose.

In July, I announced that a new business regulation forum would be established under the aegis of the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment.  This forum should help to ensure that the debate on regulatory reform continues in a constructive and inclusive manner. 

The European Union is committed to serving the interests of all its people in a rapidly changing world. I think that it is true to say that there is hidden potential in the European economy. The challenge is releasing it.  We do not generate wealth; businesses do, and businesses will locate wherever they feel that they will make a profit.

We need to make sure that corporations such as Microsoft continue to find Europe a competitive place in which to operate.  

In this context, I would like to add that I was particularly struck by the fact that Microsoft Ireland commissioned, and recently published, a study on productivity in Ireland.  Productivity is a key indicator of the health of an economy, and a key component of competitiveness, and I must say that I am very impressed not only with the study, but with the fact that Microsoft Ireland was prepared to address this key issue in such a comprehensive way.  This study, conducted for Microsoft by Paul Tansey, certainly makes for interesting reading.

I thank you for your contribution to the Irish economy and your continued confidence in Ireland.  I would like to commend the staff of Microsoft past and present who have contributed to Microsoft Ireland’s success.  With us tonight are Kevin Dillon, Ann Riordan and Julia MacLaughlin, all who have made huge contributions to the success of Microsoft Ireland over the past two decades.

In conclusion, I want to thank you, Steve Ballmer and the Microsoft Corporation for your continued commitment, investment and support for Microsoft operations in Ireland. 

May I wish you all many more years of success.

Thank you.

ENDS