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Sustainable construction action plan forges ahead

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At its meeting in Brussels today, the High Level Tripartite Strategic Forum (HLF) , chaired by the European Commission, discussed the progress of the Action Plan to promote the construction sector presented in July 2012.

European Commission Vice President Antonio Tajani, Commissioner for Industry and Entrepreneurship, said: "Low energy buildings with high CO2 and energy cost saving potential combine economic and environmental advantages. The construction sector should see this as an opportunity to innovate and attract new talent. New technologies offer a big potential, not only for new houses, but also for renovating millions of existing buildings to make them highly energy efficient. Let's not miss this opportunity.”

The plan aims to boost the sector as a driving force in the creation of jobs and for sustained growth for the economy by:
1. Stimulating favourable investment conditions
2. Improving the human-capital basis of the construction sector
3. Improving resource efficiency, environmental performance and business opportunities
4. Strengthening the Internal Market for construction
5. Fostering the global competitive position of EU construction enterprises

1. Stimulating favourable investment conditions

The group will discuss blending various financial instruments available by mapping the specific needs for various market segments (residential housing, commercial and administrative buildings). Particular attention should be given to financing deep renovation in the housing sector and providing technical assistance required to aggregate small projects into ‘bankable’ projects. Therefore guidelines will be developed for building renovation with special emphasis on technical assistance schemes and blending of financial instruments. Other issues to be discussed:
• Projects fostering the take-up of new knowledge and innovative solutions in building renovation and infrastructure maintenance should be given priority.
• Tax deductions on works, reduced VAT rates on products: Some MS have put in place schemes that aim to boost activity in the construction sector, particularly for energy efficiency. 
• Active Ageing schemes: Support active ageing, both via an adapted building stock to improve quality of life for the elderly, and by facilitating continued employment of older workers in the sector.
• Develop recommendations for facilitating continued employment of older workers in the construction sector (e.g. continuing training, reconciliation of work and care, employment services for older workers, etc).
• Prevention of red tape: Simplify administrative obligations and permit acquisition for building renovation.
• Modernising rent regulations to prevent the rent out of housing premises that do not reach minimum performance levels, including for energy efficiency.

The renovation of existing buildings and infrastructure maintenance are a priority. In particular, in order to achieve the EU 2020 targets for energy efficiency, we must accelerate renovation activities should be accelerated and be ambitious regarding the energy performance of existing buildings.

2. Improving the human-capital basis of the construction sector

It is necessary to anticipate future demands on the labour market, including vocational training, to create the conditions for a better working environment and career prospects for young people. This will provide greater mobility for employees, particularly in cross-border services. 
Faced with this background, the HLG discusses today amongst other:
• Simplify access to training for the self-employed and micro-enterprises.
• Encourage training for jobs in the green economy. 
• Creating a Sector Skills Council, or similar framework, setting a mandate and governance frames with modus operando.
• Support the future European Classification of Skills, Competences and Occupations (ESCO) model in regards to construction.
• Foster accreditation for skills acquired through experience.
• Identify initiatives that provide quality assurance to insurers on know-how related to installation of new technologies and materials. 
• Support lighthouse projects that strengthen synergies between different funding mechanisms (Horizon2020, COSME, Cohesion Policy Funds, Leonardo da Vinci, Erasmus+). 
• Identify overlaps and gaps within current EU legislation and directives on skills and qualifications related to the construction sector.
• Monitor the enforcement of Posting of Workers Directive. 
3. "Sustainable use of natural resources"

The group will discuss promoting environmental performance of construction products such as promoting a single structure for the measurement of the environmental performance of construction products building on existing environmental assessment tools and European standards. Helpful in this context could be: 
• Incentives: Develop incentives within the framework of Cohesion Policy Funds and Horizon 2020. Link incentives within Green Public Procurement. The Commission will continue to stimulate R&D in the EU through H2020 and COSME.
• Communication: Use training to increase awareness/ knowledge about green buildings.
• Data collection in regards to the assessment of building /product sustainability: Consider feedback from buildings in operation, and transparent communication of operation data, to facilitate the assessment of the eco- efficiency (energy efficiency measures, product based performance).
• On the EU level, a platform, specific but not exclusive to the construction sector, could provide a tool for data gathering.
Recycling and valorisation of construction and demolition waste: Develop Tools/Guidelines based on existing incentives/practices on Member State level, support research (H2020) and technological development and remove legislative barriers to increase resource efficiency to explore the ex-ante assessment of buildings prior demolition in order to identify viable/potential opportunities.
Provide training to construction companies on dismantling buildings, implementing separate collection on site to tackle contamination, assessing wastes (including hazardous waste) and planning for maximizing recycling and use of materials.

4. Cumulative cost assessment concerning the Internal Market for construction products and services
The group will assess the overall consistency and coherence of a number of EU legal acts imposing obligation on the construction sector. The objective is to identify/avoid/remove provisions in EU legal acts creating overlaps, inconsistencies, obsolete measures or excessive cumulative burden. Priority areas are:
• Internal market of products and services including horizontal and sectorial legislation, public procurement, posting of workers and recognition of professional qualifications;
• Health and safety of occupants and workers: A pragmatic mapping study on cumulative burden based on representative case studies for services/professions/products with significant cross-border trading.
The group will also look at ensuring that Eurocodes are more widely used in the EU, including in public procurement.
To further guarantee proper market surveillance in construction products, Member States need to be encouraged to assign the necessary resources.

5. International promotion of construction and maximising the benefits of trade negotiations
The discussion will focus on the particularities of trade in the construction sector, such as high dependence on local market conditions, geographical distance and high exposure to political risks. Therefore a well-targeted selection of potential partner countries for intensifying cooperation is necessary. A list with priority countries has already been established. Special emphasis will be put on maximising the benefits from on-going negotiations for Free Trade Agreements (FTAs), notably the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the US and the FTA with Japan. Moreover, the Group will follow progress on the proposed implementation of the new reciprocity instrument for public procurement. Industry associations shall provide the EC with factual information and data about trade flows and investments in international markets.
The full use of the Market Access Database shall be ensured when it comes to construction products.
For international cooperation on fostering the international cooperation on regulation and standards beyond Eurocodes, the following areas shall be explored:
• Construction design: energy efficiency of buildings, structural design (Eurocodes), Eco-Management Audit Scheme (EMAS),
• Construction products: promoting the international uptake of harmonised construction products, test methods and standards, including sustainability aspects, environmental requirements (green public procurement, eco-label),
• Professional services: recognition of qualifications of engineers architects and works.
Also discussed will be measures for stimulating favourable investment conditions.


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