Mariya Zheleva, Reneta Nikolova
From Berlin, Germany
„The construction of the European house is not finalized yet; there is still a difference between the “rooms”. This house however ensures freedom and equal opportunities for all; therefore it should be provided the required investments and infrastructure to achieve the same welfare for all citizens.” With these words Florian Pronold, the Parliamentary State Secretary of the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety, opened the 14th Congress of the European Construction Industry Federation (FIEC). The event, held on 26-28th of June in Berlin, Germany, was attended by construction companies from all over Europe and Turkey. Their tasks this year were not only to discuss the trends and the challenges of the construction industry, but also to elect new President and Steering Committee of FIEC. The BCC delegates were the President – Eng. Svetoslav Glosov, the CEO – Eng. Ivan Boikov, the Editor in Chief of newspaper “Builder” – Reneta Nikolova, and the International Relations Expert Mariya Zheleva.
In a classical German style, the Congress was officially launched at the Berlin Concert house. The former President of FIEC and German entrepreneur Thomas Schleicher, highlighted in his welcoming speech that “during the times of economic turmoil we need to fight every day to pursue our goals. The main objective of FIEC is to include the main concerns of the builders in the European agenda. Thus, we are counting on all FIEC member federations.” He also added: “Our voice is heard within Europe. Our contact network links us with all relevant European institutions.”
The official ceremony continued with the welcoming speech of Prof. Thomas Bauer, President of the German Construction Federation. He reminded everyone that a crisis can unite and deploy stakeholders and it could turn out to be an excellent growth opportunity, referring to the reunification of Germany and its aftermaths on the construction sector. He urged the member-federations to join efforts and to contribute to the growth, safety, and free competition of the European construction industry.
The Congress carried on with the General Assembly and the elections for President and Steering Committee for mandate 2014 – 2016. With a quorum of 92% of the active votes, the delegates elected Johan Willeman as the new President of FIEC – civil and construction engineer, owner of fast growing and expanding family business in Belgium, immediate past President of the Belgium Construction Federation (CC) and vice-president of FIEC (2012-2014).
In his first speech as a President, he expressed his gratitude for the honor and the trust, and greeted his ancestors with their fruitful mandate. Mr.Willemen also managed to impress the delegates with his innovative overview of the problems in the European construction industry. He convinced the delegates that the efforts to team up with the goal to revive the industry will lead to effective and sustainable results. Therefore he urged the federations to ignore the widespread skepticism and the negative growth expectations. “I know that entrepreneurs believe that things can get better. We must therefore convince the politicians to provide us with sustainable environment, in which we can deploy our entrepreneurial skills to turn around this negative spiral into more jobs, welfare and wealth for everybody”. With these words Mr. Willemen finished his first speech as FIEC President.
The President of BCC – Eng. Svetoslav Glosov and the CEO – Eng. Ivan Boikov congratulated the new President and wished him good luck in achieving the significant industrial goals, set ahead. They also officially invited Mr.Willemen to be an honorable guest at the 5th consecutive annual Construction Forum, organized by BCC this autumn in Sofia. The President of FIEC accepted the invitation and gave one of his first interviews to newspaper “Builder” – the official edition of BCC.
Johan Willemen, President of FIEC:Together, we can and we must find the best solutions for more jobs and industry development
On behalf of the Chamber and the newspaper “Builder” – the official edition of BCC, I would like to congratulate you on the elections and wish you a very successful and fruitful mandate. In your opinion, what is the state of the EU construction industry? Which are the main problems of the sector?
In general, the development of the European construction sector is not satisfactory. We see that construction in Germany is picking up well, because there is enough demand. In Belgium, on the other hand, the demand from the private sector is going down, however, there is enough of public procurement of works; in general construction is about half of the total of the market. So, should the government decide to lower their budget, the easiest way is to cease investments in roads, ports or in any public infrastructure. Certainly, a serious danger for the building sector in the western part of Europe, I mean Belgium, France, Spain and Italy, is the lower demand for construction input. As for the Eastern countries, Poland and Romania – they are doing better. However, the problems of this region are different due to the crisis; whereas in Western Europe we observe market saturation combined with lower national budgets.
Mr.Willemen, in your speech you announced that one of the first things you’d do as FIEC President is to organize a meeting with European parliament representatives. What topics have you planned to discuss?
You know that the European parliament has been re-elected. Thus we have to meet the new politicians, to introduce ourselves, and to attract their attention to the construction matters. Other topics would be the ten action points, defined in the FIEC manifesto, the posting of workers, and the third countries’ investments within the EU. As for the common European matters, it is very important to keep the current level of the public investments, I reckon. In many countries, the typical level of these investments is 3% of GDP, and in other countries this parameter is only 1 or 1.5%. It is likely for the latter to lag behind. Thus, everyone has to invest, because Europe is for everyone. We must make Europe transportable, the whole Union, not just my country
You took an interesting position in your speech, stressing that “negativism is not doing us any good; thus, we need to cut it off”. What are the main problems that should be discussed publicly in order to overcome this pessimism?
My position is that negativism is not helping; therefore, we must stop it. I am positive that the economy will recover. Therefore, I will initiate a series of meetings within the European parliament to attract their attention to the problems of the construction industry. Together, we can and we must find the best solutions for more jobs and industry development.
There are many problems confronting the construction industry. However, we cannot solve each and every issue. I think that we first have to put forward a goal so that we know where are we heading. It is necessary to focus on several priority problems instead of trying to deal with all bottlenecks at once. If we decide to solve all problems at once, there will be no results at all. At the same time, we need to balance: we cannot deal as if problems do not exist, however, we shouldn’t spend too much time trying to find a solution. It is really important that we look forward. The only way to get better is to achieve higher employment especially for the young people and to improve Europe’s well-being. And we have to see to the progress.
You mentioned that you’ve set ahead two goals as a new President of FIEC? What are your objectives?
An organization of such high calibre as FIEC, strictly observes the EU legislation. At this moment, I see two cross borders’ problems of the EU countries – the posting of workers and the third countries’ investments within the EU. The posting of workers creates inconvenience when the European workers, from the newer EU countries with lower salary levels go to work in the older EU countries where wages are much higher. The social security taxes in these cases are covered by the employers in the country of origin of the workers. Even though we support the free labour movement within Europe, the posting of workers for longer periods in the richer countries, stampeded the free competition on the labour market. As I proposed at the General Meeting, I think the best way to cope with this issue is to make people pay social security taxes in the country where they work, instead of in the country where they live, as it is now (in the country where they live it is very hard to control whether they have been paying their security taxes). My idea is to find a solution by redefining what posting is. Currently, posting can last for two years and this is too long. If posting is limited to 14 days, then we can exert a higher control on the long-term posted employees abroad, as most dwellings are built for longer than 14 days. Don’t forget that the initial purpose of the posting was to attract specialized staff that was not available on the local market. The free movement of people within the EU changes in this perspective; however, these processes should be controlled and managed in order to avoid collapse of the existing social security systems in the old EU countries, because currently there is a chance they would.
The other big problem refers to the investors from third countries (outside of the EU) taking control over European companies, particularly from China. The Chinese workers cannot work freely in Europe as they need special papers. However, the Asian investors are importing much cheaper their building materials and almost all the subcontracts are executed by Chinese companies. The challenge for the EU counterparts does not only lie in the lowered price of the construction service. Due to the scale of these investments, the entire artisans sector in Europe is endangered as their services are much more expensive simply because the prices and the wages in Europe are higher. It’s a pity to lose such a traditional and important branch, and there are ways to find a solution.
BBC President Mr. Glosov invited you at the largest annual construction forum in Bulgaria this autumn. Will you accept?
Yes, of course, if my agenda allows it, I will certainly come. I look forward to meeting you in Bulgaria, I’ve never been there.
Last but not least, this is your first interview after the elections. What would you wish to the core “Builder” readers?
Since they are builders I wish them a lot of success and to have the wisdom to find the right price between winning the project and not losing money on it.