Britain's relations with the EU are broadly working well in key areas, a government review said yesterday (13 February) in findings out of step with Prime Minister David Cameron's calls for radical EU reform.
The review collected more than 600 opinions including those of companies, business organisations, think-tanks and local councils, and found Britain broadly benefited from being a member of the EU's single market.
"The majority of respondents … felt that, on balance, EU action was beneficial to the UK's national interest," said the report on free movement of goods within the single market, one of eight published on Thursday.
Cameron has tried to quell the eurosceptic wing of his ruling Conservative Party by promising to try to renegotiate Britain's ties with the EU if re-elected in 2015, before giving Britons an in-or-out EU membership referendum.
He has not yet detailed what he would change but has made clear he wants to amend the EU's freedom of movement rules to stop people moving countries to claim welfare benefits.
Cutting EU red tape, improving competition and protecting Britain's financial sector are also priorities.
Not as critical
The review – part of a larger civil service investigation into how the EU affects British life in 32 areas from health and education to the economy, tax and immigration – did not find respondents as critical of those sectors as some politicians.
"They felt that the advantages of European action … outweighed the costs arising from administrative burdens, regulatory costs or policy trade-offs," the report said.
The government published an initial batch of findings last summer that concluded the economic benefits of Britain's EU membership outweighed the loss of independence on policy.
The Liberal Democrats, the junior partner in Britain's coalition government, accused Cameron's Conservatives of giving the reports a low-key publication because they did not fit their views. The reports were simply posted on the government website.
"They are a factually accurate look at the relationship between Britain and Europe and as such they don't paint Europe to be the monster that many on the Conservative backbenchers perceive it to be," said a senior Liberal Democrat source who asked not to be named.
The review found some respondents felt Brussels should be less heavy handed in some areas, such as transport or the environment, while others argued the importance of trade within the EU had diminished in comparison to other global markets.
The complexity of EU programmes in areas such as research and development were also criticised as off-putting, particularly to small businesses.
The government is due to publish another 18 reports before the end of the year.
The UK Independence Party (UKIP), which has no seats in the British parliament but is represented in the European Parliament, campaigns for Britain to leave the EU and for an end to what it calls "open-door immigration".
Polls show a surge in support for UKIP was siphoning off support from the Conservatives, diminishing British Prime Minister David Cameron's hopes of being re-elected in 2015.
Responding to pressure from within his own party and UKIP, Cameron last year promised Britons an in/out EU referendum by the end of 2017 if re-elected.
This triggered an undiplomatic warning to British Conservatives that they risk losing out to UKIP in the next elections, saying British voters would rather “vote for the original than the copy”.
- 22-25 May 2014: European elections
- 1 Nov. 2014: Newly constituted European Commission takes office
- 2015: British elections
- 2017: Possible referendum in the UK on EU membership