Magazine article Management Today

Business Warms to Europe

Magazine article Management Today

Business Warms to Europe

Article excerpt

Reports of our Euroscepticism have been greatly exaggerated. Management Today's poll of its readers' views on Europe revealed an overwhelmingly positive attitude among Britain's business community. The response was impressive, with replies coming from as far afield as the former Soviet Union. At the time of going to press well over 4,000 readers had completed and returned the questionnaire which appeared in our july issue. This represents an increase of 1,000 on our last survey three years ago and makes it the biggest-ever poll of Britain's business views on Europe.

The first and most general question, which asked readers to describe broadly their attitude to the EU, showed a clear percentage in favour, with those defining themselves as pro-Europe (63%) outnumbering the anti-Europeans (21%) by three to one. Answers were fairly polarised, with only 15% describing themselves as neutral, and a mere 1 % who didn't know.

This surprisingly pro-European stance is explained by the findings of the next two questions. Forty-seven per cent of respondents found the single market beneficial to their businesses; a further 42% were neutral and, unexpectedly for a nation renowned for its Euroscepticism, a mere 8% - less than 1 in 12 - thought the single market harmful to their companies. The question which followed asked whether the single market had increased the costs of European trade. This elicited a more divided response, with no overall majority, but showed that less than a quarter of respondents felt that the single market pushed up their costs.

A similar warming to Europe was evident on the issue of a single currency. Though it is often thought to be a move most Britons oppose, our poll showed no overall majority: those against a single currency exceeded those in favour by the slimmest of margins. Perhaps in the light of this, John Major's position, seen by many as indecisive, is simply a reflection of public opinion. Political union, however, is still something we feel uncomfort able with, and this provoked by far the strongest showing for the anti-Europeans, who represented just under half the replies Considering the icy reception which increased federalism still receives in Westminster, the 34% in favour is surprising in itself.

As might be expected, company size was an important though not overriding - factor in the responses. Larger companies tended to be more pro-European than the average on all counts. Of the replies from companies whose turnover exceeded E500 million, for example, nearly 50% would like a single currency. This differential does not mean, however, that UK business harbours a contingent of 'small town' Eurosceptics - far from it. Respondents in favour - from companies with a turnover of less than E4 million - outnumbered those against by two to one. And in every category of company size those who described themselves as broadly pro-EU were in an overall majority. Furthermore, smaller companies gave the largest number of neutral responses to the questions relating to the single market's effect on their businesses, which is hardly surprising as they are less likely to operate on a multinational level.

The results of this survey reveal an appreciable change in opinion since we last polled our readers on Europe, three years ago. …

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