‘You know what the funniest thing about Europe is? (…) It's the little differences. I mean, they got the same shit over there that we got here, but it's just ... it's just, there it's a little different.’ – Vincent Vega
For US companies, operating in Europe can sometimes be a little confusing. Although there is a European Union and something called a single market, it may not have the characteristics you would expect from a single market. Not only can the regulatory demands differ quite considerably per member state, perhaps even more importantly the regulatory culture can be the complete opposite. Being aware of that can help companies to operate more smoothly and save them from having to conduct costly procedures potentially threatening their licence to operate.
Uber is currently undergoing a very steep learning curve on regulatory culture in the EU. When entering individual EU markets, Uber could count on the sympathy of the general public and therefore politicians. The incumbent taxi industry naturally started a fierce campaign against Uber. But somehow Uber also managed to help its opponents by gradually losing public sympathy and making it almost impossible for politicians to be openly enthusiastic about Uber.
Saying that you don’t care about the outcome of a legal procedure because you will go on doing what you think is right (and in doing so in fact dismiss the rule of law in a country) may not be the most effective way of making your point in each individual EU market. And yet this is exactly what Uber has done.
When your business model is disruptive to traditional industries, you know to expect resistance. It is logical that you cannot (and don’t want to) talk to every actor that can potentially hamper your business and you therefore move forward, focusing on your own strengths.
As a disruptive company you are shaking up (supply chains in) industries. However, the question is: do you want to change the law or break the law? Changing laws and regulations will initially take more time, but changing them after breaking them will be even harder.
In the past, Microsoft has had to learn some tough lessons on the individual EU markets. It had several costly competition cases filed against it and was perceived as the ’Big Bad American Company’, abusing its dominant position. This may have been because it was not properly embedded in European markets from a regulatory and public policy perspective. Microsoft is now able to operate more effectively in Europe thanks to being better connected and not always having its public policy tactics imposed top-down from the US.
It is not Microsoft but Google that has spent years trying to become the champion at annoying European regulators, along with losing public sympathy. Not only in the area of competition law (known as Googlopoly), but also in the area of privacy and data protection. Rather than following Google’s example, Uber might want to consider learning Microsoft’s public policy lesson: think global, act local.