LONDON, Oct 28 (Reuters) - AkzoNobel, one of Europe’s largest firms, on Wednesday urged Britain to stay in the European Union and fight to improve it, saying the country was too important to be outside the world’s largest trading bloc.
Few high-profile executives have spoken out on Britain’s position in Europe ahead of a referendum due before the end of 2017, with many reluctant to be seen to be scaring the public over the possible implications of a withdrawal.
But the Netherlands-based owner of the Dulux brand, which gobbled up Britain’s largest manufacturer ICI in 2008 and employs some 3,600 people in the country, urged Britain to stay.
“A country that has that level of relevance in a geographical area like Europe should be in from the perspective of where we stand,” Chief Executive Ton Buchner told reporters.
“I would much rather have the UK actually help to improve the EU from within rather than commenting from the sidelines.”
UK Prime Minister David Cameron is seeking to renegotiate the terms of Britain’s EU membership and has promised to hold an in/out referendum by the end of 2017.
On Wednesday he launched his most open defence yet of Britain remaining a member, telling Eurosceptics that EU-outsider Norway - a successful economy that exists closely with but outside the bloc - was no model to emulate.
Some major British firms have voiced concerns about the consequences of a British exit, though others have complained about what they say are high levels of red tape from Brussels.
Leading UK employer group the CBI said this month most of its members believed the pros of membership outweighed the cons, and lobby group the Institute of Directors urged a referendum soon to cut the risk of an accidental ‘Brexit’.
Opinion polls show a narrowing of support for the bloc versus leaving.
AkzoNobel, which produces chemicals used in everything from corks to make champagne pop to the protective coating on an iPhone, is valued at just over 15 billion euros ($16.6 billion).
Higher demand in Britain, last year the fastest growing G7 economy, partly helped it comfortably beat third-quarter profit expectations.
The firm said it had continued to invest in several of its British facilities. Buchner said the firm would “respect every decision that the UK people make and we will adapt ourselves accordingly.”
$1 = 0.9029 euros editing by John Stonestreet