WE BRITS suffer from a sort of “oscillating Channel syndrome” when it comes to our place in the community of northern (and now wider) Europe.
In our isolationist moods we see those 34 sea kilometres to Calais as a handy barrier.
But as pragmatic traders we have known for millennia that the Continent’s shallow sea has in fact been a super-highway stretching from the Port of London directly to all the communities along the major rivers of France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany and beyond.
Internal Markets Commissioner Michel Barnier’s flying visit to the City earlier this month reminded us of the fact that EU policy makers are key to the future regulatory landscape – and this is no time to stand shy on the Dover shore.
The recent draft Alternative Investment Funds Managers Directive showed that failing to engage with EU policy-makers early enough can lead legislators down a path full of unintended consequences.
Today the City meets Commissioner Barnier in Brussels and the key points that the City of London’s Policy Chairman Stuart Fraser and I will make are based on the premise that the City is the financial hub for Europe, not just Britain, and makes a real contribution to the EU economy.
A recent Global Financial Centres report ranked London equal first (with New York), making it one of the world’s twin sister-cities of finance. The streets of the Square Mile are packed with young workers from France, Germany and across Europe and many “foreign” banks have their international teams based in London.
In this context any anti-competitive or protectionist legislation risks driving business to rival centres in the USA and Asia, leaving us all the poorer through loss of jobs across the industry.
Also in my briefcase are papers for the City delegation visit to South Africa on Sunday.
At present, four out of five South African investments in Europe are invested in Britain. Bilateral trade stands at over £9bn with more than 600 South African companies already present in the UK.
Only recently infrastructure giant Transnet announced that it will be issuing bonds through the City to diversify – and thereby strengthen – their sources of funds. And there is scope for closer cooperation as the South African government embarks on an ambitious 10-year capital expenditure programme, worth £56bn.
My job is to encourage South Africa to look to the City when it comes to financing infrastructure development, especially when it comes to venture capital and public private partnerships. But this will only be the case if our financial services industry is not undermined by Brussels rules driving business out of Europe.
Nick Anstee is Lord Mayor of the City of London