Viewpoints: Business leaders and Europe

EU flags flying outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels UK business leaders have diverse opinions on the UK's position within the European Union

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David Cameron is expected to call for a loosening of the UK's relationship with the European Union (EU).

Keen for a number of powers to be repatriated to the UK, the prime minister is also widely tipped to confirm that the government wishes to hold a referendum to seek backing from the electorate for any changes it achieves.

Any alteration in the UK's role and place in the EU could have a profound impact on UK businesses.

Here a number of UK bosses discuss Mr Cameron's plans, and their own opinions on Europe.

Sir Martin Sorrell, chief executive of advertising agency WPP Group

The call for renegotiation has created uncertainty… it can't be helpful, but David Cameron has done it clearly for political reasons. Clearly the growth of UKIP has driven the prime minister and the Conservative Party to reassess what they are doing in relation to Europe.

Start Quote

Martin Sorrell

Business faces considerable uncertainties, this is just another thing to have to deal with”

End Quote Sir Martin Sorrell WPP

I think the irony of all this is that any decision, if we can have a referendum... it is likely that it will be resolved exactly at the time when Western Europe will be coming out of this severe recession.

There are thing that we dislike about the EU - working directives, too much bureaucracy, ridiculous rules and regulations etc. There are things that we'd like to see changed, and we'd like the very best terms. But I would far rather negotiate them inside the tent looking out, rather than outside the tent looking in.

Over the coming months we will see more and more firms say that the situation is creating uncertainty, doubt about why they should locate their factories, their plants, their financial services offices, their headquarters etc.

All these things create levels of uncertainty which from a business point of view are unacceptable, and also at a time when we have enough uncertainties around, when you are talking about fiscal cliffs, the eurozone crisis, the Middle East.

I think this negotiation to get better terms from the EU should have been done more quietly, rather than grandstanding. I think it should be done quietly behind closed doors.

Luke Johnson, chairman of private equity group Risk Capital Partners

I think we are better off renegotiating the terms of our relationship with the rest of the EU, because the British economy, and indeed our democracy, will be healthier with a looser arrangement.

Start Quote

Luke Johnson

If we want to remain as a competitive and dynamic economy then I think we have to look outside of the narrow confines of the European Union”

End Quote Luke Johnson Risk Capital Partners

A great deal of the regulation and red tape that businesses are nowadays burdened with appears to stem from Brussels. UK politicians seem to have no control over these new burdens that are placed on commerce, and I feel that we need more control over the destiny of our businesses and our economy if we are to compete with the rest of the world.

The EU doesn't represent what it used to in terms of the overall economic cake, South America and Asia and so forth are now the more dynamic parts of the world economy, and increasingly more important.

If you look at the eurozone for example, and the problems that many countries within that face, that is an example of how an EU sponsored and promoted mechanism has wrought I think considerable harm.

I think if David Cameron were to look at the broad spread of the British population or indeed of a majority by number of businesses, particularly small and medium-sized businesses, I'm pretty sure he would get a huge majority in support of a wholesale renegotiation. However, if you look at the political classes and the media classes and very big businesses as represented by the CBI, then I perhaps he would be nervous at their reaction.

But I think he should be confident… if we want to remain as a competitive and dynamic economy then I think we have to look outside of the narrow confines of the European Union.

Nikki King, managing director of Isuzu Truck UK

Start Quote

Nikki King, chief executive of Isuzu Trucks UK

We need the trade that Europe gives us to survive"”

End Quote Nikki King Isuzu Truck UK

Being in the European Union is like being pregnant, and I don't believe you can be half pregnant - you either are, or you aren't.

For this reason, I don't think you can cherry-pick when you like and leave behind what you don't - you have to take the lot.

The level of legislation that comes at us from Brussels is mind blowing, but on the other hand, we need the trade that Europe gives us to survive.

If would be happy if we could maintain the trade links, but come out of the bureaucracy, yet whether than is achievable I don't really know.

One thing I think most of us can agree on these days is that we do not want the euro - you can't have that without fiscal integration, and it is madness totally.

I would absolutely welcome David Cameron winning some concessions, but it would be like the Second Coming if he achieves it, I think the changes are that low.

Jon Moulton, founder of private equity firm Better Capital

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Jon Moulton

What we don't need are the social and employment rules”

End Quote Jon Moulton Better Capital

The nearer we get to a free trade-only position, the happier I would be, although that is deceptively simple.

The Norway and Switzerland positions, for example, are more complex than they seem. Switzerland has over 210 separate treaties with the EU.

Some of these common standards - for example, on terrorism and pharmaceuticals - are sensible.

What we don't need are the social and employment rules - or the chunk of regulation on financial and commercial matters.

The right answer is that Cameron negotiates a clear package of what we want in three months so we know what we are voting for in a referendum.

The worst would be to keep negotiations going through the next election - that would lead to the rest of Europe getting totally fed up with us.

Andrew Stimpson, chief executive of London-based under-floor heating business Warmup

Start Quote

Europe is right for us, a hugely important trade area”

End Quote

From the point of view of my business, Europe is a major trading area for us that we both sell into and buy from.

And we substantially recruit from Europe. We employ more than 100 people in London alone, and 45 of those are foreign nationals from Europe, who are able to speak the languages of our European sales markets.

And they can come and work for us here without a need to get stuck in red tape for work permits.

I am happy with the UK's current position. For example, I would not want us to join the euro, and I would not like to see any further European integration, because if you overly integrate you create dangerous instability, and people feeling that they have lost their national identity.

Europe is right for us, a hugely important trade area.

Karen de Meza, finance director at Manchester-based Jam Recruitment

Start Quote

It would be financial suicide for the UK not to keep its seat at the European table”

End Quote

In many respects, I agree with Lord Heseltine - committing to a referendum is an unnecessary distraction.

When we look at the UK and the economic recovery, that we need to strengthen the partnerships we have in Europe, not weaken them.

Also, as they saying goes, it is better to have your enemies in the tent with you, rather than outside. In regard to this, I think it would be financial suicide for the UK not to keep its seat at the European table.

Yes, it would be nice if the UK can renegotiate a few things, but I don't think there is a plan at the moment, instead there is a lot of rhetoric.

Terry Smith, chief executive of brokerage Tullett Prebon and Fundsmith

Start Quote

Clearly there is a pro-European campaign... these are exactly the same people who told us we had to join the euro”

End Quote

I would like the UK to leave the EU, let us be clear.

In being a member of the EU, we are a member of what is, and what will increasingly become, the world's least competitive trade block.

I hope that Mr Cameron gives us a referendum, and I would like it to be a straight "in or out" question.

Clearly there is a pro-European campaign, and what amazes me is that these are exactly the same people who told us we had to join the euro. Now they were obviously massively wrong about that, so I'm surprised they aren't remaining quiet.

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