British Chamber’s Brussels insiders give the EU its marks

James Stevens, EU Committee Chair
A poll of British Chamber of Commerce in Belgium members finds concern about the impact of an UK exit on business, but criticizes the EU’s current momentum on key objectives for business.

British Chamber members in Europe’s capital have given the EU top marks for its progress on completing the single market, but worry that the bloc’s efforts to improve industrial competitiveness are floundering. In a survey of the chamber, members suggested that the impact of the UK leaving the EU would be serious for their own organisations and the UK economy as a whole. They were however split on how likely the UK is to leave the EU in the next ten years.

James Stevens, Chair of the EU Committee of the British Chamber said “British Chamber members are clearly concerned about the possibility of a Brexit and the impact it would have on the UK. They are urging the EU to focus on policies that will deliver the growth and jobs to keep the Union together.”

The British Chamber found that its members’ policy priorities for the next five years were completing the EU’s single market in goods and services and promoting industrial competitiveness. As Tom Murray, director of EUK Consulting, put it, “the single market is one of the raisons d’être of the European Union. Its completion should be central to the objectives of the new Commission.”

The new European Commission, due to be appointed by the end of the year, faces an uphill task to ensure the EU is making progress on the things that matter to business. While 71% of those questioned believed that the EU was making progress on the single market, only 34% of the members surveyed felt that the EU was advancing on promoting industrial competitiveness. For some members, it was clear where the blame lay for the lack of progress and it wasn’t in Brussels. “Most power to do anything lies with national capitals. Some are doing well on things like industrial competitiveness, but others are still living in the 1970s”, said Aaron McLoughlin of FleishmanHillard.

On other policy objectives, British Chamber members judged there to be a strong positive momentum on promoting external trade and protecting the environment and consumers. The environment was however seen as a priority by only 7% of respondents. The EU was said to be stalling on institutional reform and reducing red tape, two areas where criticism of Brussels from the UK has been strong in the past.

On the subject of UK membership of the EU, the British Chamber’s members were clearly worried about the impact of such a move. A quarter of those responding said it would have a serious impact on their own business in the short term, rising to a third who feel it would have an impact in the long term. However, the real impact, according to British Chamber members, was on the UK economy as whole. 68% of British Chamber members stated that a UK exit would have a serious impact on the UK economy.

Opinion was more divided on the question of whether the UK would still be a member of the EU in ten years’ time. A quarter said there was no possibility that the UK would leave, but 62% felt that it was somewhat likely. While only ten percent of respondents felt Brexit very likely, it was also suggested that the issue needed to be addressed in the UK rather than Brussels. One member of the British Chamber commented that “regrettably the state of public opinion is such that Brexit is a distinct possibility.”

The British Chamber of Commerce in Belgium’s EU Committee is a platform for business to understand and engage with the EU institutions and other Brussels based EU stakeholders. Members of the Chamber in Brussels include BASF, Indra Systems, BT, Hitachi, Microsoft, Facebook, Samsung, Clifford Chance, Eli Lilly, Renault-Nissan and Alstom. The survey, conducted in May and June of this year, saw 132 representatives of British Chamber member companies provide their views on the basis of a quantitative online survey tool.

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