Iskra Mihaylova: Construction comes to the fore in all documents of the EC and EPThe prospects lie before the construction industry, the question is whether we will take advantage of this chance
Mrs. Mihaylova, what are the primary challenges for the EP in the present year? This year the EP has to overcome the emotional and organizational collapse caused by the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the EU. We have known for a long time that Brexit is a fact; in actual fact, the question was when exactly it would happen. It happened at the end of January. As of 1st February, our colleagues – MEPs from the United Kingdom are no longer in the Parliament. This is the first. Secondly, new colleagues from different countries, with different expectations, from different political families are coming in their place. Therefore, there is a rearrangement in the EP, which is purely organizational, and yet it does not disturb the status quo that I have talked about so far. Brexit negotiations must also be completed. Although it is already a fact, the transitional period agreements between the UK and the EU have not been finalized. Work on them lies ahead. We have formed working groups, a special committee for relations with the UK was established, work is going on the trade agreements, the border agreements, the passport control regulations, the trade relations, the citizens' rights, health insurance, fisheries, import of agricultural services. All these falls in the scope of negotiations, as well as other topics such as the participation in the EU programs. For example, the Erasmus program – will the United Kingdom participate or not? This is a matter of negotiation and we expect to have a position by the end of the year. It is difficult, but we have to manage. Otherwise – we will switch to hard Brexit. There are two options - either negotiating or breaking all ties and building new ones sometime in the future. This will be very difficult for both European businesses and citizens, as well as – for businesses and citizens of the United Kingdom. The Green Deal is unambiguously adopted in Bulgaria. Many opinions exist that our economy is not prepared for such a major change. Would you share your opinion - is it realistic to achieve the goals set in the Pact and what would be the cost, especially for countries like ours, which are poorer and more dependent on traditional energy sources? Firstly, I would like to make it more precise that the Green Deal concerns not just the thermal power plants in Bulgaria. This is the most painful topic in the country and we cannot disregard it. When the case in point are the thermal power plants and the extraction of lignite coal – we have to bear in mind that it is not expected that after 5 or 10 years Bulgaria will close the plants. The horizon is up to 2050. Bulgaria is expected itself to elaborate strategic plans for transition of those regions, that are going to be hardest affected by the emission reduction requirements. What these strategies will involve and how the funding will be negotiated depends on us. This is the reason for the „Just Transition Fund“ to operate. In its framework and in respect to the size of the resource, Bulgaria is the second largest country by its population. The resource we get is with coefficient 65, the Estonian is the highest one – a bit over ninety, we are next, and the rest countries get a lot less – 22, 32, 38. A Swedish colleague said: „in the last 10 years we have worked for new technology, and now we get the least“. Yes, the situation is such because some countries like Bulgaria, have not made the reforms they had to make. Being at the offices of „Stroitel“ Newspaper, I can ask – do we use in construction process waste materials for insulations? Not. And why not? Because we have not reformed our waste management. Because we have not reached the end point when something is not a scrap any more, but it has turned into a resource. Do we make use of all the materials we could utilize, do we use platforms to exchange construction materials? Do we utilize the opportunity to make clear, visible, accessible and exchangeable the spare resource that one company does not need, but another company needs, by implementing simple digitalisation methods? Other countries implement this approach and they get less funding. We get more in order to make the necessary reforms. I would like to mention one more thing, because I am in „Stroitel“ Newspaper – the construction industry, the building stock and its forming and maintenance in a condition that is sound, modern, energetically efficient, by applying materials, which are clear, and materials produced by waste, this is a message that shines in all documents, published by the EC. This is a true fact. All documents contain separate chapters dedicated to construction and buildings. If you take a look at the Sustainable Europe Investment Fund, which defines the financial mechanism – there you will see a particular chapter for construction and buildings. If you take a look at the Circular Economy Strategy, which is about to be published, there is a separate chapter for construction and buildings. When you take a look at the plans for digitalisation, there you will find a particular chapter for digitalisation of construction. Construction sector comes to the foreground. The building stock of Europe consumes much energy, it produces a lot of harmful emissions. We should modernize it. I do address to construction sector in Bulgaria, which I respect very much. The opportunities lie before us, but the question is whether we will take advantage of this chance, or will we move aside, saying that it is very complicated. Opportunities are for those who have the self-confidence to take advantage of them. Shall we expect new features in cohesion policy? Is there an option for a more conservative approach and shrinking of support for poorer countries? In respect to the political guidelines of the new EC and the positions it suggests to the EP, it is clearly stated that no one will be left outside the processes. Such countries that experience difficulties, like Bulgaria for instance, and have not built up enough infrastructure, where re-qualification of work force is needed, where investments are indispensable, they will get support. So, this is not the matter. If within the term of the previous Commission there were some options, in the Juncker’s White Paper, for multi-speed Europe – this is now left aside. To all member states now are given equal opportunities. Each country itself decides about the speed of its further development. If we want to be among the leaders in Europe, we should take part in the leading initiatives, instead of be frightened by them. If we wish to be at 3rd, 5th or 10th speed, this is easy to do. Then we will be acting as we are used to and will be waiting to be given something. A traditionally good partnership between you and BCC is in place and each year in collaboration with the Chamber and Stroitel Newspaper we organize international conferences. This year the event will be of a quite large scale. Would you please tell us about it? I will do it with great pleasure. I am very glad that this year our event is well received. And I hope it will achieve positive results. We are organizing a visit and presentation of BCC in Brussels, which will take place in the EP in March. It will be my pleasure to host the event. We have invited the governing bodies of the Chamber and construction companies, BCC members. „Stroitel“ Newspaper is our partner in organization of event, and we are grateful for this support. A conference is included in the program of the visit, and among the invited are the Commissioner Mariya Gabriel, who accepted with pleasure and desire to participate, and Mrs. Lilyana Pavlova, who is Vice President of the European Investment Bank. My colleague, the Vice-Chair of the Industry, Research and Energy Committee will take part too. Effective participation is expected to be taken by the FIEC President Kjetil Tonning. It is to be an exceptionally high-level event. I will be very glad to see there presentations of Bulgarian companies and demonstration of their achievements in realization of supported under the European programmes projects. It is also important during these meeting to demonstrate that we know how to work for energy efficiency and that Bulgarian builders have proved their experience both in implementation of projects, financed by European funds, and by the Energy Efficiency of Multi-Family Residential Buildings National Programme. Our companies know how to work implementing modern techniques and technologies. And they are doing it, but need some support. This support could be provided exactly under the Green Pact mechanism. We are heading to this meeting in Brussels with self-confidence, but we are placing a challenging topic – digitalization in the construction industry. It is something where we are lagging behind a bit. And we have to put efforts here and I believe, that it will stimulate both the future activities of BCC, and the work of Bulgarian companies with the support of European institutions. This is going to be our goal. And it is also the subject of the conference – Digitalisation and innovations in construction sector”. What would be your wishes for the readers of the newspaper for the new year? I am wishing good health – for them and their families, to enjoy their work, to face fewer obstacles and to achieve more successes!