The Lisbon Agenda

01 May 2008

In march 2000 a meeting of European leaders in Lisbon committed the EU to become “the most dynamic and competitive knowledge-based economy in the world, capable of sustainable economic growth, with more and better jobs, greater social cohesion and respect for the environment,”by 2010. This initiative came to be known as the “Lisbon Agenda”.

In February this year, against a background of a flagging economic growth and serious doubts that the Lisbon goals would ever be achieved, the European Commission presented a new strategy to create more growth and jobs. This initiative came in the wake of the report by Wim Kok, published in November, which put forward a series of proposals “to make Lisbon work”.

The construction industry, as Europe's largest industrial employer, will be affected by the various action plans. The overall strategy consists of a number of ‘horizontal’ measures such as completing the internal market, simplifying European and national regulation, raising R&D expenditure to 3% of GDP, promoting the take-up of information & communication technologies (ICT), investing more in human capital and so on. In addition, the Commission has begun to implement specific initiatives aimed at raising the competitiveness of the construction sector.

Background

In 1997 the Commission adopted a Communication entitled the “Competitiveness of the construction industry”, which led to the setting up of a series of tripartite working groups in 1999. These working groups developed a series of reports containing recommendations for further actions on areas such as procurement, training, the image of the sector and the take up of ICT. Other studies examined the use of quality systems and barriers to innovation.

Some of the most far-reaching proposals were developed in the Sustainable Construction working group. Ideas that have already come to pass from this group include the European system for environmental product declaration and the adoption of a directive on the energy performance of buildings, while the report on Life Cycle Costing (LCC) is expected to lead to a European methodology that can be used in public procurement.

ON-GOING INITIATIVES Earlier this year the European Commission launched a pilot study to investigate factors that influence the relative resource usage and competitiveness in EU construction industry, with particular reference to national factors. Another study, due for award later this year, will assess the elements of the main EU policies affecting construction competitiveness in fields such as the environment, energy, education and training, employment, R&D, ICT, public procurement and the internal market for services and taxation. This should help identify areas where costs can be reduced and competitiveness increased.

The follow-up initiative to the 2003 LCC study calls for the development of a standard, harmonised European methodology for assessing LCC. This should lead to the development of software tools that could ultimately be used to incorporate LCC into public procurement.

The largest research contract due to be awarded this year will be for a study of the potential long term impact of the Construction Products Directive (CPD). This directive, which has already involved huge investments by the industry and Member States’governments alike, has been on the statute books for 15 years, but its effects are only now beginning to be felt. Given that it is the most specific piece of single market legislation directly affecting construction, its potential economic benefits are, quite understandably a matter of concern.

Future Initiatives?

The Commission is also planning two further “Communications”in the coming months. The first will address the simplification of EU legislation, and will embrace three pilot cases; the waste industry, automobiles and construction. It will investigate the relative importance of factors such as national rules and EU regulatory restraints and is expected to focus on the CPD.

The second Communication will be titled “A modern industrial policy: strengthening the policy framework for EU manufacturing sectors”. This will monitor the impact of EU policies on competitiveness and the contribution of industrial sectors to the key goals of the EU. It will propose specific initiatives to improve the competitiveness of industry and facilitate the process of structural change.

FIEC will return to these themes in the future.

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