DESPITE being postponed at the last minute, it is clear from excerpts trailed in the media that the Prime Minister’s speech on the EU will set out a stark choice for both the UK and Europe.
The vision outlined presents a Britain that remains a “committed and active” member of the European Union – albeit on better terms.
There is widespread recognition of the need for reform of the EU. But to achieve this, we need to fully engage with Europe and set out a carefully constructed agenda for change that other members can sign up to – rather than the UK going it alone.
This is particularly vital given that the lengthy timetable for the planned referendum – expected to take place in 2015 – in itself risks delaying important investment decisions by international businesses.
London’s position as Europe’s financial capital plays an integral role in sustaining jobs and growth, not just in the UK but across the continent. Uncertainty over this relationship with Europe risks making the UK less attractive as an international centre across many industries – and not just financial and professional services – by clouding the business environment.
The US administration has voiced its concerns over the UK turning inwards, while several EU member states have also made it clear that they want us to continue playing a central role in shaping the future direction of Europe.
In this vein, I hope that the Prime Minister’s speech will provide reassurance that we are not turning our backs on Europe, as well as making it clear that we need to ensure this relationship works for both sides.
That is precisely why the UK needs to be involved in shaping the legislative agenda in areas that matter to us. A single market is underpinned by a single rule book. So where EU regulations have gone too far and become an unnecessary burden, it is only right that a debate is held over improving procedures.
Successful negotiations in the European arena – as demonstrated by the banking union issue – involve working behind the scenes to seek out friends and make the case to potential allies. A defeatist attitude is misplaced: we can and do influence the direction of travel in Brussels.
Britain has led the EU towards a deeper and wider single market, towards a mutually beneficial grouping of nation states – and not a federal super-state – and towards an outward-looking approach to the rest of the world. We can continue to provide positive leadership to the EU if the Prime Minister and the government seize this opportunity.
London is unique as a financial centre, given the international nature of the business that takes place here. This means that we have to remain open for business – in Europe and beyond.
Mark Boleat is policy chairman at the City of London Corporation.