Brussels, 4 October 2002
With 10% of the Gross National Product (GNP), the construction industry is one of the main generators of employment in Europe. On the initiative of ECCREDI (European Council for Construction Research Development and Innovation) with the support of the European Commission, just under 200 researchers, engineers, European construction industry professionals and representatives of the public authorities met from 2 to 4 October 2002 in Brussels to discuss the role of Community research in this sector. The Commission is at present funding 223 research projects in this area, but it wants to see a considerable increase in construction-related projects under the Sixth Framework Programme for Research and Development (2003-2006). However, European funding is not sufficient. The Commission therefore appealed for additional research outlay - a message aimed above all at businesses.
On this occasion, Philippe Busquin, the European Research Commissioner, stated as follows: "The construction industry is crucial for the European economy. Research has a fundamental role to play in all areas in this sector - property management, buildings, roads, design and organisation methods, and new technologies for equipment, materials and machinery. Research is essential for the success of big projects, but also to modernise the small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) which make up the vast majority of the sector. We therefore need a global and long-term vision. We should also network expertise and know-how, as proposed with the European Research Area (ERA), and combine research, training and standardisation, not forgetting the use of resources and the protection of the environment."
The key role of research
At present 233 research, demonstration and coordination projects are being funded by the various specific programmes under the framework programme - the majority being research projects (80), but there is also a comparatively large number of networks (13). The work concerns materials, new design technologies, construction processes, maintenance and decommissioning, safety and equipment. There are also projects concerning energy, the "City of Tomorrow", the cultural heritage, action to combat natural disasters, as well as activities relating to organisation, management of the supply chain and "intelligent" technologies.
Clean technologies and sustainable production methods - which are at the heart of the 6th Framework Programme - also have a key role to play in guaranteeing the long-term competitiveness of the sector and guaranteeing the safety and quality of life of citizens, in line with the objectives of the European Research Area and the Johannesburg Summit on Sustainable Development.
In response to the Commission's initiative, the various parties involved in the construction sector decided to join forces and ECCREDI (European Council for Construction Research Development and Innovation) was set up in December 1995. ENCORD (European Network on Construction Research and Development), the network of large construction sector enterprises, became a member of ECCREDI in 1998.
In parallel, in 1997 the Commission launched an action to coordinate Community research in the form of the thematic network E-CORE, bringing together 120 projects organised around 13 sub-themes. The network now brings together over 200 projects and has 70 members and, with the exception of Luxembourg, represents all the EU Member States plus five associated States: Hungary, Iceland, Norway, Slovakia and Switzerland.
The 6th Framework Programme, the ERA and the construction sector
Support for the modernisation of the construction sector and its contribution to the various EU policies will be provided under various lines of action of the new Framework Programme, in particular in the context of the priority "Nanotechnologies, Multi-functional Materials, and New Processes and Equipment", and the priority "Sustainable Development". Operators in the sector, for the most part small and medium-sized enterprises, will also be able to benefit from the support granted by the 6th Framework Programme to SMEs: a total budget of EUR 2.2 billion is involved for activities across the Framework Programme, granted either to sectoral research or through funding programmes such as CRAFT ("cooperative research") and "collective research".
As a reflection of the sector's considerable interest in Community research, the Commission has received over 150 expressions of interest concerning the various priorities. These expressions of interest were the subject of various round tables at the conference and can be consulted in an on-line forum
An analysis of these expressions of interest shows that a considerable amount of focusing still needs to be done in order to avoid duplication and create added value in order to be truly competitive.
During the discussion of these proposals, stress was placed not only on the need to integrate all the players, but also on the need to address the different construction of phases following a systemic approach and through better risk and product lifecycle management. This should bring about a change in the traditional approaches to the design of works, the materials to be used, and the need to adopt other property management philosophies.
European research has for many years contributed towards broad and effective coordination between the various public and private sector players in this industry. The European Research Area and the new Framework Programme should make it possible to go a step further and strengthen this integration in the interests of competitiveness and sustainable development.
Further information is available on the following websites:
DN: IP/02/14 Date: 04/10/2002
DN: IP/02/14 Date: 04/10/2002