COBCOE (Council of British Chambers of Commerce in Europe) is an independent not-for-profit organisation representing chambers of commerce and business associations in the UK and throughout Europe. It acts as an umbrella organisation, working to advance international trade across its core membership of 40 chambers of commerce and 50 affiliate chambers– representing over 8000 businesses. In its latest report titled “Evolving Europe” COBCOE surveyed almost 1000 companies across 40 European countries to gain business’ views on reforming the way the EU operates in order to promote competition in business. Despite not being about the EU referendum per se, the report provides interesting insight into the pan-European views on what a reformed EU should look like.
The responses clearly indicate that regardless of size, sector and location business believes reform is necessary to protect Europe’s position in the global economy.
Respondents confirmed three areas of focus for reform: regulation, finance and innovation, all of which fit the overarching theme of competitiveness.
Regulation, despite being seen as heavy, is deemed to be necessary to maintain quality and trust.
However, current differences in implementation and interpretation of regulation across and within EU nations causes significant inefficiencies and barriers to economic development.
There is not a robust enough single market for services, which impacts upon innovation and growth, and may lead to under-representation of European business in future trade deals.
Efforts should be made to developing a broader range of financing options and alternative funding mechanisms, such as peer-to-peer platforms.
The European Commission should be encouraged to enable unhindered development of alternative finance.
A serious skills gap persisting across all sectors and geographies in Europe means improved cooperation between employers and educators must become a reality.
Until this manifests fully, access to skilled labour, regardless of origin, is crucial.
Having a strong identity and brand, both on a national and a supranational EU basis is seen as a significant boost for competitiveness.
Despite feeling somewhat protected from outside competition as part of the EU’s single market, many respondents found it harder to compete on a global stage as a result of their EU membership.
There was consensus on the need to continue putting pressure on EU institutions to promote business needs regarding competition on a more global scale, with mixed opinions about current commitments in this regard.
A majority of businesses wish to remain part of the EU, although a large portion are prepared to move registration outside the EU if no significant reform progress is made.
The Report then makes the following recommendations:
A change in the way regulation is drafted to minimise the ability of member states to unilaterally interpret regulation, avoiding inconsistency.
A body to be established within the EC to provide formal, homogenous interpretation and implementation of regulation.
Implement a single market in services before any other trade agreement is signed (e.g.TTIP).
EC to either establish a Peer-to-Peer financing portal for SMEs, backed with cash from the Junker funds or, more preferably, establish a fund that would invest through existing Peer-to-Peer platforms. This should encourage the development of new portals in member countries in which they do not yet exist, complementing bank lending.
Allow companies to recruit staff from outside the EU to fill the identified skills shortfall.
This report provides a refreshing companion piece to the typical EU referendum fare, by revealing that the desire for EU reform has common threads not just within the UK, but throughout the Union and beyond. Some of the findings are entirely within the realm of expectation, but some – particularly the consensus on EU action concerning global competition, may come as a surprise, being more akin to what we expect to hear from Eurosceptic campaign groups here in the UK. Certainly, it is good to know that the push for reform has a strong voice outside of our national interest, regardless of whether you believe the UK’s best shot at achieving such things is within the EU or outside of it.