The EU expectation game: What does business really want?

Polls suggest most business leaders do not think that leaving the EU is an option for Britain Photo: UNICS REUTERS/Yves Herman

As David Cameron and his ministers play the expectation game over Europe, the business community, quiet as mice compared to politicians, are starting to make their voices heard.

And guess what, just like in Westminster, even inside the same political parties, there is no one settled view.

There are however strands of consensus that the Prime Minister will have to take into account as he prepares for what will be, politically at least, one of the most important speeches of the year.

The London Stock Exchange: Most FTSE companies want Britain to play an active role in the EU Credit: Anthony Devlin/PA Archive/Press Association Images

Among the big beasts - FTSE companies who trade all over the world - there is a relatively settled view that the UK would be unwise to contemplate leaving the EU.

They contend that we should not just stay in but be an active player - sitting on the sidelines would be foolhardy, they believe.

There are already concerns that the UK's stance in the last couple of years has nibbled away at our influence in making decisions.

As the CBI articulates frequently, big business believes that we must not just be in the EU, but we must be active and influential.

Of course there are Conservative supporters like Lord Wolfson, the boss of Next, and Jon Moulton, the venture capitalist, who may articulate the benefits of pulling back.

But for most of our biggest employers, maintaining our influence is much more important than embarking on an elaborate set of deals to bring back some powers.

David Cameron's forthcoming speech on the European Union is likely to be the most important of the year, politically speaking Credit: REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

The picture is rather different when you talk to people who run small and medium sized companies - the majority of firms in the country.

A survey by the British Chambers of Commerce last week suggested that only one in eight believe leaving the union is an option.

But around a third of companies think the burden of the rules and regulations that come from Brussels actually outweighs the advantages of being able to trade freely across the continent.

And there is significant demand here for resetting the relationship, as David Cameron says he hopes to do.

What the two positions have in common is a desire for politicians to get on with whatever it is they are planning to do. If there is one thing that unites nearly everyone who runs a business it is impatience with uncertainty.

It is not the first time and won't be the last that I write on these pages that business wants the politicians to get on with it, so they know what they have to contend with.

There have already been months of expectation and build-up to this speech. Business won't relish waiting much longer for the Government's actual position to become clear.

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