Iskra Mihaylova: The role of Construction sector in the recovery of European economy is of a crucial importance

Following the period of quarantine, a gradual process of returning to normal life has begun and the questions about the recovery of the European economy and about the future development of Europe in general, have come now to the fore. There is a talk about a new Marshall Plan for Europe. What is the vision of the Renew Europe group? The Renew Europe group has already held several discussions on this topic. We have issued a special political document – a stand about the recovery of Europe after the crisis, which is split into two parts. The first part covers the short-term actions, which are aimed at provision of medical products needed for the hospitals, for the homes for elderly people, for the general practitioners. They are necessary also for all those, who work at the forefront of the fight against the infection. We count in here also the scientific research, as well as the economic measures intended to surmount this crisis. The economic measures we have also split into two groups – fast ones, with a momentary result, which will create jobs and will compensate the increased unemployment in Europe, especially in some of the countries. And together with these measures we suggest application of more long-term ones, related to the strengthening of the small and medium-size enterprises, introduction of new technologies, support of the SMEs' innovative activities, development of a new industrial strategy which is to take into account the necessity the European industry and economy to recover. and of a new strategy for smart growth, as well as of a new circular economy. The plan for recovery of European economy, also called new Marshall plan, includes all these measures. We, from Renew Europe, see in it a number of key topics. In the first place, this plan will be in the context of the sustainable green development of Europe. That is to say that we do not consider the Green Deal as repealed, on the contrary – it could be an extremely successful tool in the European recovery process. In our opinion, the attempts to restore Europe to the same status in economic aspect as prior to the crisis, would mean waste of time. The better approach is, together with the recovery to implement the necessary reforms in the European economy. And they relate to the Green Pact. In the second place, we support investments in some particular sectors, where the changes would have impact, such as the digitalisation of the European economy. It should cover all sectors, but in some of them it could achieve faster effect. I have to mention here „Construction“ sector, because the recovery process goes through plan for investments, and they are realized with investment projects, implemented by the construction sector. Construction, which is bound with digitalisation of the branch, construction that is bound with environmental standards and improvement of ecological quality of all materials and technologies used, and of course – construction relevant to one of the Green Deal initiatives – the energy renovation of buildings, or the so-called – „homes renovation wave“. It would provide the opportunity, in case we expand the scope of renovated buildings across the Europe only 3 % up, 1 million new jobs to be created on the Old Continent. According to the data available, currently about 1,5 % of homes are renovated. In each recovery plan creation of jobs is of a key importance. The „homes renovation wave“ is one of the priority elements in the recovery plan and we from Renew Europe categorically support this type of sectoral investments. You have mentioned the importance of the energy efficiency. You have been preparing a report on the development of the buildings' energy efficiency potential in the EU. What are your proposals? Yes, this is correct. The European Parliament's Committee on Industry, Research and Energy decided that such a report must be prepared. I am working on it together with my colleagues, representatives of all political factions. The Rapporteur is my colleague Ciarán Cuffe, who is a member of the Group of the Greens in the EP. The report is very interesting, because it will be published as position of the European Parliament, prior to the submission by the EC of the finalised version of the „Homes renovation wave“ initiative. Parliament's position is characterised by several main points. Firstly, 94% of the all existing buildings in Europe, will continue to function in 2050 yet. That means, if Europe goes for climate-neutral development, then it must turn its attention to the building stock, because it consumes huge quantity of energy, and moreover – it causes emissions polluting the air. Therefore, reduction of energy consumed by the building stock in Europe would reduce the air pollutant emissions and would improve the quality of living in these buildings. This is the first message in the report. The second one is that to achieve this, it is necessary to mobilize considerable financial resources The third one is that a well-developed, modern, digitalised construction sector, that works with contemporary materials, will be needed. And last but not least, we will need to ensure the support of the society and that is why a mass information campaign is to be launched to explain that investments in energy renovation of buildings are made not for increasing the price of one or another dwelling, but for improving the quality of living of everyone and to guarantee the effective management of the energy resource. On my behalf I would add that in the first place I insist that all types of authorities must be involved in this process – European and national authorities - with their long term strategies for renovation, as well as the regional and local authorities, as they are the owners of considerable part of the building stock, and moreover - they work at situ and in close contact with the EC citizens, and can achieve a better effect in respect to adoption of the initiative and its realization. In the second place I insist to elaborate flexible mechanisms for synergies and for complementarity between all financial resources , which to involve utilization of structural funds, the profits from emissions trading, the Fair Transition Fund, as well as private resources from the European Investment bank and other private banks, because this task is very ambitious. If we have already renovated 1.5 % of the building stock, can you imagine what a huge amount of work is ahead up to 2050 and what amount of funding we are talking about. Financial models, allowing gradual, but permanent and advancing work in this area, must be developed. In addition, I think that attention should be paid to the construction sector in respect to qualification of workers, the digitalisation of management process in construction and the technologies, and the opportunities to employ new staff. Here I see the connection between the „Homes renovation wave“ and the investments in the regions with mining industry, where reduction of jobs is expected. Workforce could be retrained and directed to the construction sector. This would provide, on the one hand, for reduction of pressure of unemployment in these regions, and on the other hand, for guaranteeing labour for construction industry. There are many supplements, but my hope is that when the report will be issued in final version, adopted by the plenary, it will be possible to present it to the Bulgarian audience. What would be your advice to the sector? Where to focus attention after the crisis? Firstly, I want to address each construction company – as long as possible to keep its workers, because after the crisis, the first task of the European Union in order to recover its economy will be to invest in infrastructure and without doubt, there will be a lot of work for builders. Secondly, I would address to the sector, as a whole – the qualification of workers in construction is of a great importance, as well as the retraining of staff and involvement and guaranteeing jobs for those, who because of the crisis returned from Europe in Bulgaria. So, in respect to the labour – there are going to be challenges and serious attention must be paid there. And, of course, digitalisation of processes and introduction of smart solutions, that would ensure the efficiency of work, the improvement of quality and shortening the terms.