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Enterprise & Industry Magazine

Construction: Single market made easy for companies

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Construction companies wishing to expand their business to another EU Member State need to know the challenges they might face. Employment, environmental and safety requirements may differ, quite like those for construction materials and products. The European Commission has launched several initiatives to help enterprises overcome these difficulties, equipping construction companies with the information they need to be successful in other EU countries.

The construction industry, including construction products, has an enormous impact on Europe’s economic well-being. It accounts for about 9.5 % of GDP and 10 % of the workforce.

However, the economic downturn has 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 EU construction sector decreased, on average, by 16 % between the first quarter of 2008 and the second quarter of 2011, and has only slightly recovered since then.

But the European Commission has launched numerous programmes to help the sector thrive.

CRP: Providing a common technical language

In the past, trade barriers prevented Europe’s construction products sector from fully exploiting the opportunities offered by the Single Market. But the Construction Products Regulation (CPR), which was adopted in 2011 and will be fully applied starting in July 2013, will simplify the legislative framework and help construction-related business flourish.

The CPR provides a ‘common technical language’ that manufacturers are to use to express the performance and characteristics of the products they place on the European market. This common language, which utilises harmonised standards, replaces national technical specifications. By increasing market transparency, the CPR benefits designers, builders, contractors and other actors. In particular, architects find it easier to obtain reliable information about the performanceof the products they intend to use, helping to ensure the safety of construction as required by the respective national rules.

CrIP: Construction search engine

Available in nine languages, the European Construction Information Platform (CrIP) helps construction companies, in particular small and medium sized-enterprises (SMEs), adapt to new challenges and implement new work methods and innovation. CrIP functions like a Web search engine but is only focused on the construction documents published by European official websites. These documents are clustered by type when the user performs a query.

CrIP provides information on an array of construction-related topics, including education, energy, environment, sustainable construction, taxation and many more. CrIP also includes Eurocodes, the set of standards which form the backbone of the single construction market (see below).

EU action plan for low-energy buildings

Despite their economic and environmental advantages, low-energy buildings still have a limited market uptake. Therefore, an EU action plan promotes low-energy buildings with high CO2- and cost-saving potential. The action plan includes steps to:

  • stimulate favourable investment conditions – in particular in the renovation and maintenance of buildings and infrastructures – by promoting financial instruments such as loan guarantees and encouraging national level incentives such as reduced VAT rates;
  • boost innovation and improve labour qualifications and mobility by encouraging the dissemination of information on curricula, employment and employers’ needs;
  • improve resource efficiency and environmental performance by fostering mutual recognition of sustainable construction systems in the EU;
  • provide standard design codes of practice for construction companies, making it easier for them to work in other Member States;
  • bolster the global position of European construction enterprises to stimulate good performances and sustainable standards in third countries.

Eurocodes ensure Single Market

European technical standards, known as Eurocodes, are recognised throughout Europe as the foundation for structural design of buildings. Developed by the European Committee for Standardization (CEN), at the request of the European Commission, Eurocodes consist of a set of European standards, each containing several elements that cover particular technical aspects – e.g., fire, bridge design, safety, serviceability, robustness, durability, seismic actions, etc.

Eurocodes establish a set of common technical rules for the design of construction works in Member States. However, a system of nationally determined parameters, which account for differences in geographical, geological or climatic conditions (e.g., wind, snow and seismic maps), ensures that Member States control certain aspects of the construction process. Such national parameters are included in the National Annexes to each Eurocode standard.