Cameron welcomes British business call to stay in EU

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British Prime Minister David Cameron on Monday welcomed a call from the nation's business leaders for Britain to remain in the European Union, ahead of a referendum in 2017.

EU membership is "overwhelmingly" in Britain's economic interests, but major reform is needed, the Confederation of British Industry said Monday in a key study published at its annual gathering in London.

Cameron, addressing delegates at the conference, welcomed the CBI's study and agreed that reforms were "badly needed" amid "wafer thin" British public support for membership.

The premier has pledged to win back some powers from Brussels and put the new terms of Britain's membership to the public in an in-out referendum by the end of 2017.

"The CBI have hugely helped this morning with a very positive report," said Cameron.

"This is one of the most important questions facing our country. It is my judgement that our current consent for remaining inside the EU is wafer thin."

He told delegates: "We haven't made the argument enough about why Europe matters and frankly there are lots of things in the European Union that badly need reform. It is too costly; it is not flexible enough; it is not competitive enough; it needs to change."

He said: "The argument I have made is not some short term tactical ploy. It is a long term strategic choice for Britain: let us reform this organisation, let's make changes to how it works, and then let's put those changes to the British people in a referendum."

Cameron, whose Conservative party heads a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats, is seeking a majority in the 2015 general election but faces fierce pressure on the right from the anti-EU UK Independence Party.

He added on Monday that eurozone member states wanted reforms including tax rate coordination and a banking union.

"This organisation is ... changing in front of our eyes because of the euro. Those countries that are in the euro need change to happen.

"It is right that we shouldn't stand in their way, but I think it's legitimate to say that eurozone members need those changes, but we outside the euro we need changes too," the prime minister said.

The study meanwhile concluded that Britain's EU membership was worth between £62 billion and £78 billion ($99 billion and $124 billion, 73 billion euros and 92 billion euros), or about 4.0-5.0 percent of economic output.

The CBI said that 78 percent of British firms it surveyed favoured staying in the EU, with 10 percent preferring to leave.

There was "no realistic alternative" to EU membership that would retain the benefits of the current relationship while eliminating costs, it argued.

However, the CBI also called for a number of reforms, including removing barriers to e-commerce, becoming more outward-looking, and re-focusing the work of EU commissioners.

Businesses wanted a moratorium on legislation which could be made at a national level, such as employment law, and also called for a permanent opt-out from the working-time directive, it noted.

"The world around us continues to change rapidly; Britain must keep up. For UK businesses that is best achieved by remaining in the EU but arguing strongly for reform," CBI president Michael Rake told delegates.

© 2013 AFP

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