Although Europe’s construction products sector is economically important, it has not yet fully exploited the opportunities offered by the single market due to remaining trade barriers. To address this, a new Regulation aims to simplify the legislative framework and strengthen the credibility of the system. The EU has also been working on several initiatives to promote the sustainability and the competitiveness of the construction sector on the whole.
The construction industry contributes hugely to Europe’s economic well-being. It accounts for about 10% of GDP and 7% of the workforce. However, the recent credit crisis and economic downturn have had serious implications for the sector, with employment falling sharply in many Member States, particularly in Spain, Ireland and the Baltic countries. In fact, the turnover of the sector decreased by 16% between the first quarter of 2008 and the second quarter of 2011.
These difficulties have hurt large and small firms alike, many of which are highly specialised. Thousands of European businesses supply the construction sector with various products such as doors, thermal insulating products, cement, roofing products and façades. These construction products alone represent more than 3% of the total European GDP. Many of these construction products manufacturers are SMEs.
To ensure that Europe’s manufacturers of construction products can prosper in tough economic times, the European Commission has been examining ways of making existing legislation covering these products simpler, clearer and more effective, within the framework of Better Regulation.
In October 2005, the European Commission adopted a Communication which stated that the effectiveness of current construction products legislation should be evaluated. The Commission felt that the Construction Products Directive (Directive 89/106/EEC), which provided the legislative framework for putting construction products on the market, only partially succeeded in eliminating trade barriers and failed to establish optimal conditions to allow the free circulation and use of construction products within the EU.
Following a stakeholders’ consultation, the European Commission came forward with a Proposal for a Regulation in 2008. Regulation 305/2011, which entered into force in April 2011, (and which will be largely applicable from 1 July 2013) lays down new harmonised conditions for the marketing of construction products and replaces the former Directive 89/106/EEC.
The new Construction Products Regulation (CPR) recognises the need to provide regulation for the whole sector, while ensuring support for smaller businesses. In order to achieve this, it simplifies procedures for placing construction products on the market, provides greater clarification concerning the role of CE marking within the sector and strengthens the credibility of the system for assessing construction products.
Already the replacement of a Directive with a Regulation can, under certain circumstances, simplify. Indeed, a key aim of the Regulation is to make implementation of EU legislation easier, and simultaneously to alleviate the administrative burden on SMEs. This Regulation is also one interesting test case in the practical implementation of the Small Business Act.
Manufacturers or importers need to make a declaration of performance when placing a construction product on the market. By assigning the CE marking to a construction product, manufacturers indicate that they take responsibility for that product’s conformity with its declared performance.
Since the safety of construction works is the responsibility of Member States, the Regulation does not aim to define the safety of products, but rather to ensure that reliable and clear information is presented. To this end it introduces a common technical language which shall be used by all manufacturers when placing products on the market, and by public authorities, too, when aiming to fulfil the needs of safety. Furthermore, the specific meaning of CE marking for construction products has been clarified so as to avoid confusion with other pieces of legislation.
With a view to strengthening the credibility of the system, the Regulation also introduces new and stricter criteria for notified bodies. In addition, stringent conditions are defined for the designation of Technical Assessment Bodies. These measures should lead to a greater acceptance of CE marking as the only marking that consistently demonstrates conformity with declared performances.
Furthermore, micro-enterprises manufacturing construction products will now be able to apply simplified procedures, provided they respect the requirements in place.
Some of the Regulation’s provisions will enter into force on 1July 2013, so that businesses have sufficient time to adapt to the new legislation. By 25 April 2014, the European Commission will assess the need for further information on the content of hazardous substances in construction products, and by 25 April 2016, will report on the implementation of this whole Regulation to both the Council and the European Parliament.
Achieving sustainable competitiveness in construction is an EU priority. Indeed, the European Commission plans to submit a Communication on this issue in autumn 2011.
In 2007, the Commission also launched the Lead Market Initiative, which focused on encouraging the development of innovative products and services in six areas. Sustainable construction was chosen as one of these six areas, unsurprisingly perhaps given that buildings account for the largest share of total EU energy consumption (42%) and produce about 35% of all greenhouse emissions.
The goal of the Lead Market Initiative on Sustainable Construction is to ensure that citizens and business benefit in full from new sustainable building features that enhance quality of life and protect the environment. Possible solutions include efficient heating installations, indoor air-quality systems, and issues related to the independence of elderly people.
The Initiative aims to encourage these innovations by targeting better legislation, standardisation, labelling and public procurement. A roadmap has also been developed, containing a list of measures to further stimulate a market for sustainable construction products and services in Europe.
In July 2011, an online consultation was launched, which will feed into the future Commission Communication on the sustainable competitiveness of the construction sector and its enterprises.
‘Construction, pressure equipment, metrology’ Unit
Directorate-General for Enterprise and Industry