Europe - renegotiate, reform, remain in it?

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The UK's relationship with Europe has been the subject of on-off debate since we joined four decades ago. Since the Prime Minister's speech earlier this year, the debate is not only on, but likely to heat up as head into the European elections next year.

It's worth a quick recap on what the PM did and didn't say in January:

  • Britain should play a committed and active part in the EU to ensure access to the Single Market is not compromised.
  • Changes are needed to ensure the EU is able to address the challenges facing today's Europe.
  • Five principles to guide changes to the EU – competitiveness, flexibility, power flowing back to member states, democratic accountability and fairness.
  • A pledge that in the first half of the next parliament the government would;
    • As part of the potential moves to create a new treaty for the EU, seek a new settlement for Britain.
    • Hold a referendum in 2017 to determine whether Britain would remain part of the EU or not.
  • Routes not on the table;
    • Britain seeking entry into the currency union.
    • Exiting the EU but remaining part of the single market (akin to the approach taken by Switzerland and Norway).

At the moment, the EU – and particularly the eurozone – is regarded as having a negative impact on the UK's economic performance. Weak economies are acting as a drag on UK exports and prospects, economic and political, have been an on-going source of business uncertainty for several years. Europe's institutions also have a significant influence on our regulatory burden. Moreover, there is some wariness about whether the reforms is it embarking on to address sovereign debt problems and shore up the banking sector will tie individual members states even closer together.

These events and issues are clearly rising to the surface as more consideration is given to what our relationship with Europe should look like. This is only part of story. The EU and the rest of the world will continue to change in the future and the not only needs to consider what is right for now, but what will be right for our economy in a decade's time. First and foremost we need to see a marked improvement in the quality of debate and economic analysis on the decisions we face and we think these fall into three areas. Do the disadvantages of membership outweigh the benefits of membership or vice versa? What is the size of the prize of any renegotiations? Where is the rest of world heading in the next decade and how does the UK and the EU need to change in response.

For an export and investment focused sector like manufacturing, these questions are particularly pertinent.

In the coming months, EEF will be setting out some thoughts on these questions, but first our EU Challenge is open for business. We want to hear from companies – what's the good, the bad and the ugly of the EU. AND important how does this impact on the day to day running of businesses and the ability to compete in global markets.

Let us know. Tell us what's good or bad about Europe, with a brief description of the direct consequences for your business. Does the EU need to change? Email us at


This person has now left EEF. Please contact us on 0808 168 1874 or email us at if you have any questions.

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