Lloyd's should double its European business to take advantage particularly of continental reinsurers' weaknesses, said Lloyd's chairman Lord Levene.

Speaking to 250 top European insurance professionals at the first Lloyd's European Symposium last week, Levene said UK insurers had hesitated over Europe to its detriment for 50 years.

While Europe accounted for 29% of global non-life insurance premiums, it represented only 13% of Lloyd's income, he said.

This should double "as soon as possible," he told Insurance Times. "All contributions will be gratefully received."

Most opportunities were for reinsurance "which is linked to the current weakness of a number of European reinsurers which is linked in turn to their reliance on the equity markets, " Levene said.

Lloyd's low use of equities meant it was strong while competitors were "on the way down," he said. "In that posture we see both the need and the opportunity to address wider markets much more fully than we have in the past."

Lloyd's European business, excluding the UK, had grown by nearly 50% in two years but, Levene added, the

EU would by 2004 consist of 25 nations with a combined GDP of $30 trillion, making it the world's largest commercial market.

He said: "Throughout history, Lloyd's has always been a trailblazer, covering the risks that others feared to touch. So we are happy to lead the way in Europe."