Whilst membership of the European Union has its downsides, the disadvantages are significantly outweighed by the benefits we get in return. And the Prime Minister’s push for reform gives a window of opportunity to maximise those benefits – before the public chooses the future course for the UK.
With a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union now a question of “when” not “if”, it is essential that the business community is part of the debate. Business lives Europe every day. This document contains the views of 29 business leaders, setting out both what EU membership means for them and how it should be better. They come from firms of all sizes, from all sectors and from all parts of the UK. Between them, they are responsible for hundreds of thousands of jobs.
Whilst it’s not a uniform view, the majority of firms believe that the ‘pros’ of EU membership outweigh the ‘cons’. But they also recognise that – like most institutions – the EU is far from perfect. There are disadvantages to EU membership. It costs money. It means compromising with other countries and not always getting our way. The EU should be more focused on being competitive in a changing global economy. The need for further integration of Eurozone countries is not something the UK wants to be part of.
Aspects of EU legislation do get in the way of business. And the Union itself is facing many challenges, particularly in an unstable world. But just as “more Europe” isn’t the answer to every question, neither is “no Europe”. Being a member of the European Union helps British businesses to grow and create more jobs across the UK. The ‘EU single market’ gives British business access to over 500 million customers – that’s 8 times the number of customers in the UK alone. In many respects the EU makes it easier to sell to them, simplifying business rules on exporting. And the sheer size of the EU makes it a magnet for global investment as well as letting EU trade negotiators go ‘toe-to-toe’ with global giants like the US and China to open up their markets. And it’s a good deal for households too. Driving competition within Europe and helping open up trade with countries outside it means lower prices and more choice. Whilst it’s hard to quantify many of the benefits of EU membership, CBI research estimates that membership is worth about 4-5% of our national income - about £3,000 for the average household every year. So – despite the disadvantages – EU membership is a prize worth having.
But it’s not just our job to weigh up the ‘pros’ and ‘cons’. We also need to continually work to make the European Union better. Like the Prime Minister, we believe that creating jobs should be the EU’s ‘raison d’être’, not an ‘optional extra’. The EU must expand the single market in services and update it for the digital age. New regulation must be a last resort, not a first response. And the EU must relentlessly focus on signing new trade deals with high-growth economies around the world. The CBI has been actively pushing this reform agenda with our sister federations in other member states.
People will vote for many reasons in the referendum, including whether staying or leaving will be best for tomorrow’s growth and jobs, where the business view is critical. This choice of futures is the fundamental question. Alternative arrangements to full membership either have serious downsides or are surrounded by huge uncertainty. That’s why the majority of business want to remain in a reformed EU.