THE BLOG

Clueless Within Europe, Rudderless Without

19/01/2015 13:24 GMT | Updated 21/03/2015 09:59 GMT

One of the mainstays of the British media, and increasingly of British politicians, is that European regulations are loading unfair and unnecessary burdens onto British business. It is certainly true that Brussels can be unfathomable to UK companies, and that all too often we seem to be on the receiving end of new directives and regulations rather than being engaged in the process of drawing them up. The more sceptical of Europe Britons have become, the more our companies as well as our government seem to have withdrawn from trying to understand, let alone shape, what happens there - or perhaps we are just listened to less.

To companies from outside Europe the process of navigating through the Brussels regulatory, legal and political jungle can seem even more daunting. Yet accessing this market of more than 500 million relatively well-off people is clearly a priority for companies from the UK and from around the globe. Europe is far too important to be ignored.

Of course the best way for UK firms to be able to succeed in the European Union is if they, and the British Government, have a seat at the table when it comes to formulating new rules and regs. Withdrawal from Europe will naturally weaken or destroy our ability to influence what happens there. Yet if we continue to want to trade there, and even keep some sort of semi-detached relationship to allow that to happen easily, we will be subject to European rules anyway. This plainly undermines the ability of UK companies to compete with their European counterparts.

The other prerequisite for success for UK plc is to have a stable environment which allows for long-term investment decisions to be made by British firms, and which allows foreign investment in the UK. As I have said before, the European policy of the party which seems most likely to be part of the next government appears to be designed to subject us to two years of uncertainty as we prepare for a referendum on our membership of the EU. But this is not just a Tory issue: none of the British political parties seem to be enthusiastic about engaging positively with the EU. This is daft.

Britain's role within Europe is going to be much discussed in the coming months. A lot of truths and untruths will be trotted out by both sides of the debate. We will hear a lot of myths about what the UK can achieve vis-à-vis Europe in terms of reforming the EU and its institutions, or in terms of the relationship we can have if we leave. For me, the one abiding truth will be that Britain cannot afford to be cut off from Europe; we are better off with a seat at the table than without; and we need stability. I would argue strongly that it is much better, for all its flaws, to embrace Europe enthusiastically and work out how to succeed within it than to have a prolonged, ill-informed and ultimately destructive debate.