'It would be a political mistake for countries to leave the EU'
Leif Johansson: chairman of the European Roundtable of Industrials. photograph: eric luke
Interview:Peace in Europe, the single market and the free movement of labour, goods and services are too often taken for granted by Europeans, the chairman of the European Roundtable of Industrials has said.
Leif Johansson said Europe has provided great opportunities to businesses that can take advantage of a marketplace that boasts more than 500 million consumers, and to individual citizens who can travel and work freely.
“We take the ability to move and work freely across Europe for granted. We are taking too many good things about Europe for granted and focusing to much on the problems.
“It would be an economic and political mistake for countries to leave the EU. We have established peace within the EU with the accession of new countries.” While some Eurosceptics believe Germany is dominating, and shaping integration to suit its own interests, Johansson says the EU has been democratically set up.
“Germany may have a lot of power economically, but they have run their country very efficiently and done very well. That said, the EU as a union is very democratically set up.”
Mr Johansson, who is the chairman of Ericsson, criticised the amount of regulation and bureaucracy faced by businesses in Europe, saying companies had to comply not only with domestic laws but with EU laws and directives too.
“The combination of EU regulation and the individual member state regulation is problematic, especially for SMEs. There should be one overall regulation, preferably at a European level.”
Johansson believes Europe needs to be made more attractive to young talent and more competitive in business terms.
“We lack growth in Europe. We allowed ourselves to become uncompetitive in terms of labour productivity, especially in the southern countries. We need to industrialise Europe and become more competitive. We have reasonably good research but we lack the ability to put it into the marketplace, maybe due to financial reasons.”
He said Sweden was now seeing the disadvantages of not being a party to the euro. “The Swedish krona has been very volatile. Sweden is a very stable country, so there is no reason why the currency should be so volatile.”
On the single currency, Johansson said there had been a lot of media and political commentary about the strength of the euro, adding that it wasn’t an especially strong currency. “It’s the dollar that is surprisingly weak. That skews everything. It’s an interesting phenomenon that we say the euro is in trouble as it’s actually quite a stable currency.”
While the chance of a Greek euro exit has virtually disappeared, he said any Greek exit would not spell an end to the euro. “People forget that Greece only accounts for 2-3 per cent of the whole euro.”
Warning against any raising of taxes in Europe, he commended Ireland’s low corporate tax rate. “The Swedes went too far with high taxes and had to retreat. Europe has to be careful not to go down that route.
“When I sit in various headquarters of companies such as Ericsson, corporate tax rates are always listed very high on the agenda when it comes to deciding where to locate.”