By Daniel Hunter
Just 11% of businesses based in the UK want to leave the EU, according to the Institute of Chartered Accountants Scotland (ICAS).
The UK's relationship with the EU is expected to be a key topic ahead of May's general election. ICAS' study of business professionals found that more than 82% were in favour of staying in the EU.
The Conservatives are promising an 'In-Out' referendum in 2017, after David Cameron has tried to renegotiate the UK's deal with the EU. UKIP wants to pull out altogether and Labour and the Liberal Democrats want to stay in the EU, without holding a referendum.
A fifth (20%) supported further integration, 31% wished to see a renegotiated relationship and 32% preferred no change in the current arrangements. In addition to the 11% who want to leave, 6% said they were undecided.
Sixty-five per cent of respondents said that the EU yields benefits for their business, and almost half of these said the benefits were significant.
Only 3% of respondents said the EU imposes significant burdens on their business, however 15% stated that membership resulted in some burdens. There was a sense that the EU imposes more of a management and administrative burden as a result of rules and regulations.
The key benefits of EU membership were seen as: access to a market of more than 500 million people; a single market without tariffs and customs duties; uniformity of standards and legislation throughout the EU (although nearly 20% saw this as imposing "some" or "significant" burdens); rules preventing discrimination and ensuring free trade and movement of capital and people; and the EU’s strength as a trading bloc in negotiating with other groups and nations. EU grants and subsidies were seen as less important than the foregoing benefits with only 27% of respondents viewing these as a benefit.
The major burdens associated with EU membership were: EU employment law; regulations specific to the respondent’s industry; VAT rules (although more than 22% saw these as a benefit of membership); EU environmental requirements; and pensions rules. In most cases, even those aspects rated as net burdens in the survey were seen as benefits by a significant minority of respondents. No single aspect of EU membership was seen as a "significant" burden or barrier by more than 9% of respondents.
David Wood, ICAS executive director of technical policy said: "The level of support for staying in the EU was significant — although there were clear differences of opinion as to whether this should be in a more integrated EU, as part of a renegotiated relationship or with the status quo.
"A striking message from the analysis paper prepared by our expert committees was that even if the UK left the EU, it would be severely restricted in its ability to do things differently if it wanted to continue to access the EU’s single market and be internationally competitive."