Sustainable construction for people

World Engineering Forum 2012
Ljubljana, 18 September 2012

Commissioner Maria Damanaki intervened at the World Engineering Forum 2012, on the subject "Sustainable Constructions for People". 


Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you for inviting me at this year's World Engineering Forum on "Sustainable construction for people". Being an engineer myself, it is an honour to present to you what the European Union is doing in this field – and how your, or better "our", contribution is important.


Sustainability is at the heart of this conference. It is also at the heart of our policy.

We are in the middle of the most serious financial, economic and political crisis. We are struggling to find a way out, to stabilise and reform our economies and to reveal effective ways to inject new growth and create new jobs. Long term financial consolidation is one aspect of the management of the crisis, but in the Commission we are also strongly focusing on the renewed drive for growth in Europe. Growth has to be sustainable. We cannot go back to the previous situation. We have all learned a lot from the current situation.

Sustainable growth can come by strengthening the competitiveness of the European economy. A knowledge-based, resource-efficient, low-carbon economy can help us transform the challenges we face today into opportunities for tomorrow.

The strategy that the European Commission defined in 2010 for this decade – the 2020 Economic Strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth – is trying to do exactly that. Let´s see what we think about the constructions sector.


This brings me to the centre of your interests and the theme of this conference. So, here, the Commission, under the responsibility of my fellow-Commissioner Antonio Tajani, has recently launched a "Construction 2020 strategy".

The construction sector, which accounts for 10% of total employment in the EU, is a priority of our industrial policy. It is at the centre of a new industrial revolution, based on human capital, resource efficiency and innovation. Apart from addressing pressing sustainability challenges, the quality of construction also has a direct impact on the quality of life of Europeans. Not least, it also has an important impact on energy, climate change and the environment.

Buildings are responsible for 40% of overall energy consumption and 30% of greenhouse gas emissions. Over 80% of existing buildings should be subject to renovation; the opportunities for growth that could result amount to up to 1 million new jobs by 2020.

I would like now to outline some central elements of our strategy:

1) First, we must stimulate investment – in particular in the renovation and maintenance of buildings and infrastructures.  Financial instruments such as loan guarantees or project bonds, also incentives at national level, such as reduced VAT rates, can provide such stimulus. Up to 120 billion euro in loans were made available from the European Investment Bank last June, as part of the Pact for Growth and Employment approved by European Heads of States and Governments at their Brussels Summit.

2) Secondly, we must encourage innovation and improve labour qualifications and mobility. We must address the labour mismatches by creating transparency of information about employment offers and employers' needs. The appropriate social dialogue should support this initiative. The aim should be to anticipate the needs of the market. National education systems should be prepared to meet future business needs.

Mobility within the EU is essential for engineers. The recognition of professional qualifications is very high in the Commission's agenda.

The modernisation of the Professional Qualifications Directive offers new possibilities for improvement. A key element is the introduction of the European professional card. This innovative tool would be issued by the national authorities in the country of origin. It would facilitate cross-border mobility within the EU by simplifying recognition procedures. It would also give more certainty to professionals and foster trust among national authorities. I am glad that this idea was supported during the public consultation by all European engineers' organisations.

3) Third, we will facilitate the transfer of know-how of European construction enterprises so as to stimulate good performances and sustainable standards in third countries. This is because the sustainability challenges are global, not local.

Finally, in our Sustainable Construction strategy a key point is to improve resource efficiency and environmental performance. For this, we must establish mutual recognition of sustainable construction standards in the EU. For the moment, Member States apply a variety of different definitions.

This brings me to the energy efficiency issue.

The Commission’s recent paper on the ‘Energy Roadmap 2050’ points out that higher energy efficiency in new and existing buildings is key for the transformation of the EU’s energy system.

The European Parliament also approved last week an essential Commission’s proposal: Member states are required to renovate 3% of the total floor area of "heated and/or cooled buildings owned and occupied by their central government". Moreover, all large enterprises will be required to undergo an energy audit.

Referring to energy resources, ocean energy can play an exceptional role. Allow me at this point to give you an outline of the blue growth initiative.


The European Commission adopted last week my proposal for a Blue Growth strategy. It is about how to extract economic growth and employment opportunities from the marine and maritime sectors. These sectors provide jobs for 5.4 million people and contribute a total gross value added of around 500 billion euro. By 2020, these should increase to 7 million jobs and nearly 600 billion euro respectively.

In order to reach this potential, we must remove the obstacles hindering growth and implement smart solutions to boost new sectors.

A set of Commission initiatives will be launched in the near future to explore and develop the growth potential in five specific areas with a particular potential for growth: (1) Blue energy, (2) maritime, coastal and cruise tourism, (3) marine mineral resources, (4) aquaculture and (5) blue biotechnology.

A lot of work for us, and for you: if we look at estimates, the global annual turnover of marine mineral mining is expected to grow from virtually nothing to €5 billion in the next 10 years and up to €10 billion by 2030. By 2020, 5% of the world's minerals, including cobalt, copper and zinc could come from the ocean floors. This could rise to 10% by 2030.

On ocean energy, we are developing a new policy framework. Exploiting the power of waves and tides to generate electricity can create jobs and economic growth, especially for areas suffering from the decline of traditional maritime industries such as shipbuilding and fisheries. Estimates suggest that wave and tide energy could satisfy 15 % of European electricity demand and reduce CO2 emissions.

Most marine energy technologies in this field are still at an early stage of development, but several projects are showing excellent results:

In Spain’s Basque Country, the Mutriku wave power plant consists of 16 turbines, with an estimated overall power of around 300 kW. And Wave Star in Denmark has received funding to upscale and demonstrate a 500 kW wave power unit in the North Sea.


But, the question arises: how can this drive towards a more sustainable construction sector be supported financially?

The European Union is supporting these developments through its funding instruments: in the current financial period 2007-2013, EU structural funds contribute with 49 billion euro to direct and indirect investments in infrastructure investments in energy efficiency, renewable energy and clean transport, in particular.

A part of this spending concerns the energy refurbishment of existing housing. In order to raise awareness of local, regional and national authorities about the benefits of energy improvements in housing and buildings, the Commission has ring-fenced 1.3 million euro for workshops and seminars with authorities and stakeholders.

For instance, we co-financed the Green Building Cluster of Lower Austria, which connects construction and building professionals with researchers and enables innovation through cooperation. It involves about 200 members, of which 80% SMEs.

There are many examples across the EU. I am sure that some of you are already part of this venture to stimulate sustainable housing in Europe. I will only refer to one characteristic example. It concerns France.

France has been particularly successful in mobilising EU funds for this purpose. This was in large part due to the readiness of the social housing association "L'Union sociale pour l'habitat". In less than 22 months, through financial engineering France has mobilised over 1 billion euro of investment in energy performance in social housing – this is 7 times their original national allocation. The project is on-going. So far, it has contributed to create some 15 000 local jobs, mainly in SMEs. France has progressed from 1% of social dwellings having energy performance ratings of A, B or C to over 80%. These early results clearly demonstrate the added value of the EU's funding in sustainable energy in residential buildings, and the French example should also inspire other European regions.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

We are setting up the policy framework to accompany the profound changes that we are witnessing: our economy is developing with new production techniques, based on digital technologies, robotics, renewable and recycled raw materials. This is sustainable growth.

This revolution affects different areas, from manufacturing to services, from energy to raw materials, infrastructure, transport, tourism, chemical, and - of course - the construction sector. We need to create the best conditions for this sector of the economy to adapt to the new realities, while creating growth and jobs.

However, the Commission can not do this alone. The cooperation and contribution of all stakeholders are essential conditions for the success of our policies.

I trust that your conference will reach significant conclusions and that you will spread good practices and inspiring ideas across to your countries of origin.

Thank you very much for your attention..

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