Construction sector faces restructuring
By Ophélie Spanneut | Thursday 26 July 2012
Commissioner Antonio Tajani (enterprise and industry) has promised the construction sector, reeling from the collapse of demand, that his strategy for the industry will be unveiled on 31 July.
Europolitics has seen the document, which aims to provide support for short-term growth and restructuring over the longer term.
The strategy is based on the five areas, announced on 11 June: stimulating investment conditions, improving workers’ qualifications, improving environmental performance, strengthening the functioning of the single market and promoting European businesses on a globalised market.
Large European groups are particularly keen on the latter point. Traumatised by the Chinese experience in Poland, they hope to see the EU commit to the principle of reciprocity in public procurement. A Chinese consortium won a major contract for the construction of motorway sections in Poland ahead of the Euro 2012 Football Championship. In spite of Chinese public support that allowed prefinancing, the construction project was far from exemplary. A request for 2,200 work permits for Chinese workers had to be submitted to enable the contractor to complete the works on time.
On top of structural problems (lack of qualified workers, limited innovation capacity) comes increased competition with non-European operators bound by less strict social and environmental constraints, not only on international markets but also in the single market. The Commission pledges to negotiate with these countries to get them to open up their public procurement further, to track down discriminatory practices and to settle disputes. It proposes to offer technical assistance for the internationalisation of SMEs.
On investment conditions, the EU executive emphasises compliance with Directive 2010/31/EU on late payments and encourages member states to share their experiences on tax incentives (reduced VAT, preferential interest rates) offered to the sector.
Construction is a strategic sector for the European economy. It accounts for up to 10% of GDP when related industries are included and provides 20 million jobs. The Commission consequently considers that “the sector’s competitiveness is a permanent political priority,” especially given the impact of the crisis.
In the short term, the Commission wishes to place emphasis on support for growth and jobs, and in the longer term on restructuring the sector by providing an appropriate regulatory framework for a transition to a low-carbon economy, particularly through the construction of buildings with near zero energy consumption.
The strategy also provides for the creation of a tripartite group, similar to the initiative for the automotive industry with CARS 21. It would bring together the Commission, member states and industry representatives to discuss initiatives affecting construction.