Read a transcript of a CIO interview with Steve Ballmer here

The long-term promise of cloud computing lies in discovering what is possible.

It is about applying infinite computing resources to tough challenges — to solve problems, create businesses and save lives.

The Swedish Red Cross is turning to the cloud to more effectively manage times of crisis. When a disaster hits, volunteer numbers swell and reliable access to information is critical as those volunteers deploy to the field. Using the Microsoft cloud, they can now cost-effectively scale its information and communications technology (ICT) to ensure reliable field communications for its variable numbers of volunteers, while saving 20 per cent in overall ICT costs.

These are real, tangible benefits that give you a sense for what is a broader opportunity for the cloud in Europe. One estimate from the University of Milan suggests that rapid adoption of cloud computing could create up to 1.5 million jobs in the region alone. Globally, the research firm IDC believes that the public cloud market, currently worth around $16.5bn (£10.2bn), will jump in value to more than $55bn (£34bn) by 2014. A large part of this market will be in Europe.

I visited Europe a few weeks ago and I could sense a mood of renewed optimism following what has been an undoubtedly tough time for many in the region. Europe is moving out of crisis mode. The region's governments and businesses are looking at new ways to drive growth and propel their economies forward. We believe the cloud has a major role to play in helping Europe tackle its economic challenges.

Microsoft's relationship with Europe goes back nearly three decades. When Microsoft was a much smaller business that it is today, we recognised how important Europe would ultimately be to our business. We are now one of the region's significant employers with over 16,000 people working for us across 30 countries.

The experiences we've garnered in Europe over the last three decades have helped us to understand how important technology is for the region.

Already we are seeing that cloud services are having a major impact in the way small and medium-sized businesses operate. These early adopters are using cloud technology to knock down many of the barriers to starting a business or a project, developing new ways to start or run a business, and compete.

In enterprise organizations cloud computing is lowering costs and increasing efficiencies, but it is also creating opportunities to do new things in new ways, like entering new markets, executing on new business models, or creating new customer experiences. DuPont, Coca-Cola Enterprises, GlaxoSmithKline, McDonald's, Volvo and Daimler are some of well-known global brands using Microsoft cloud offerings today.

Alongside businesses, public sector bodies are also taking advantage of the evolution in the computing landscape. We are in discussions with governments and agencies across Europe, working together to determine how they can use the cloud to drive efficiencies, deliver better services, and speed-up growth.

Thanks to cloud computing we are already seeing public services reach European citizens in a more timely and effective manner. We are also seeing the cloud inject a new spirit of entrepreneurship, dynamism and experimentation into the arm of the public sector.

But the role of government goes beyond mere consumption of cloud computing. Governments are the key enablers of the cloud too, and the decisions they make, in the coming years and months, will dictate whether the new world of computing flourishes in Europe or not.

Through policies and legislation, governments will shape how and at what speed cloud computing can be adopted and the benefits realised across Europe. The potential of cloud computing, to a large extent, rests in the hands of Europe's leaders.

Microsoft alone has invested nearly $10bn (£6.7bn) in research and development of cloud computing so far. Cloud computing is transforming our business. We want governments to engage with Microsoft and the rest of the computing industry to understand how truly transformational the cloud can be. Cloud computing will enable many more citizens to benefit from public services with greater choice.

Adoption of cross border computing can also prove to be another tool to help speed up European Integration.

As I talked through last week at the government leaders forum in London with UK Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and European Union Vice-President Neelie Kroes we want Europe's leaders to support a roadmap to enable broad adoption of the cloud so the benefits can be felt by the many and not the few.

Technology is, perhaps, the key driver of productivity in Europe, so the seeds of cloud regulation sown by governments today will have a major bearing on how growth develops in the future.

Facing this challenge will be a difficult task for all stakeholders concerned but it is a challenge that Europe and its people cannot afford to shy away from.