Fifty-seven per cent of UK companies surveyed said they would not want to see closer links with the 28-state union, an attitude increasingly shared by two other major European players, Germany and France.
Researchers interviewed over 3,000 business executives across Europe and concluded that while levels of business optimism have risen from a net balance of two per cent in 2013 to 37 per cent in the first quarter of this year, fears about EU expansion and the integration of financial markets loom large for many companies.
Attitudes towards closer integration among French and German business leaders in particular has hardened, with 26 per cent and 17 per cent respectively saying they would not support it. Those figures represent a 16 per cent and 12 per cent increase from the attitudes of France and Germany in 2013.
“It’s not so much the case that UK businesses are anti-EU,” Scott Barnes, chief executive of Grant Thornton in the UK said yesterday, “indeed, the majority support the single market.
“Rather, it’s that they’re hesitant about further integration of member states and what that brings in terms of regulatory burdens; which is a trend we’re seeing in some of the other EU economies.
“Even French and German business leaders – whose politicians were the architects of the euro project – are growing weary of more integration. Businesses rely on certainty, as far as it can be determined, so the turbulence across the Eurozone over the past few years will have rattled confidence in the EU for some of them,” he added.
The research comes after similar findings earlier this week from the British Chambers of Commerce and the Institute of Directors, who both concluded that unease about the future of the UK’s relationship with Europe has knocked firms’ morale.