U.K. business leaders push for staying in EU

AFP-JIJI

Britain’s biggest employers’ group on Monday intensified its campaign to keep the country in the European Union, saying membership is “overwhelmingly” in the country’s interest.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) said at the start of its national conference that membership is worth between £62 billion ($99 billion) and £78 billion a year — 4 to 5 percent of Britain’s total output.

“We have looked beyond the political rhetoric to examine the pros and cons of EU membership and British business is unequivocal — the single market is fundamental to our future,” said Director General John Cridland.

Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged to win back some powers from Brussels and then put the new terms of Britain’s membership to the public in an in-out referendum by the end of 2017.

The CBI said that 78 percent of firms it surveyed favored staying in the EU, with 10 percent preferring to leave. There was “no realistic alternative” to EU membership that would retain the benefits of the current relationship while eliminating costs, it said.

The group called for a series of reforms to the terms of Britain’s membership, including a permanent opt-out from Europe’s working-time directive and the removal of barriers to e-commerce.

“We are better off in a reformed EU than outside with no influence. Each year, membership is worth £3,000 to every household in this country,” Cridland said. “But the EU isn’t perfect, and there is a growing unease about the creeping extension of EU authority. Europe has to become more open, competitive and outward-looking if we are to grow and create opportunities and jobs for all our citizens.”

Membership gives Britain access to a market of almost 500 million people and has consolidated the position of London as one of the world’s top financial centers, said the CBI, whose members include 240,000 companies.

Cameron promised the referendum under pressure from the Euro-skeptic wing of his Conservative Party and the rise of the anti-Europe United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP).