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THE GREAT EMU DEBATE: What the business leaders think

Tonight Kenneth Clarke spells out the Government's criteria for a singl e European currency
If British business leaders have sounded more agitated recently in their pro-European pronouncements, it has little to do with a sudden penchant for Jacques Santer. Business, and particularly big business, has for some time been supportive, in a cautiously British sort of way, of European integration.

The increase in volume reflects, rather, the concern that the Government's increasingly negative approach to virtually all things European risks doing Britain's business prospects a grave disservice.

Fifty three per cent of British exports go to the European Union, compared with 14 per cent to North America and 4 per cent to other leading industrial countries. For any business with an export interest, the approach to the EMU debate is shaped by practical concerns that keeping Britain out will damage market prospects.

A poll in November by the Confederation of British Industry, which mainly represents big business, found 56 per cent supporting a single currency.

Polls among small businesses, usually with more domestic interests, find greater caution towards EMU, but again a preference for an open-option, rather than a rejectionist, approach.

In the City, a Harris poll in December found 73 per cent of senior managers think EMU is likely to happen.

Of the respondents, 59 per cent thought Britain should not be in the first group going ahead with a single currency. Ironically, because the City is so international, it is less reliant on sterling as a currency and, indeed, the British economy for its livelihood, which makes it less fearful of changes seen as challenging things peculiarly British. The fact that the City is not overwhelmingly for EMU, but is split down the middle, reflects deep worries that continental preferences for regulation and control will cramp its Anglo-Saxon, open, wheeler-dealing skills.