Jean-Louis MARCHAND

Chairman of European Construction Industry Federation (FIEC)

How did you sector do in 2016? What objectives have you set yourselves for the coming years? 

It' s always hard to map out big trands, since construction activity varies from one country to another and one segment to another. But from a broad perspective, and according to the figures from our last statistical report (published in June 2016), we are seeing a modest recovery in business for the third year running (+2.1% in 2016). 

The slow return to growth of the European Union is working in our favour, but as we all know, the construction sector always reacts with a certain time lag. Therefore it's too early to draw any conclusions from the investment plan launched by the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in 2015; however we do believe that this initiative is a step in the right direction. It focuses on strategic sectors such a building energy efficiency and infrastructure; it focuses on strategic sectors such as building energy efficiency and infrastructure; it increases the visibility of projects that are struggling to obtain finance from private sector investors; and it re-establishes greater trust between stakeholders: developers, private investors and government. 

We have indeed welcomed the proposal of the Commission to extend this investment plan to 2020 at least and increase its capacity, based on a European guarantee of 33,5 billion euros. 

In parallel we can observe in various places that member states are trapped between the necessity to stimulate growth and employment through expansionist investment policy and the injunction to comply with European rules on good budgetary governance. It's like trying to square the circle! On this matter, we would like the European Commission to accept greater budgetary flexibility when member states effectively invest in generation growth and jobs. 

We have furthermore been able to note in recent months that none of the EU member states are spared by the underinvestment in infrastructure which is so vital for the economy to function. The lack of maintenance of ageing infrastructure is simply catastrophic !

Promoting energy efficiency in buildings will remain a key priority in the work of the FIEC in the coming years. On this matter, we took great interest in the package of measures proposed recently by the European Commission for "Clean energy for all Europeans"... which unfortunately does not appear to make any innovative proposals in financing it! 

 

What are the growth perspectives and innovation drivers of you sector to respond to the wide range of projects arising in France and all over the world? 

In the area of innovation, the big trend of the moment is digitalisation. 

In fact, FIEC devoted its annual congress in June 2016 to BIM (Building Information Modeling) under the title "BIM : rocket science or common sense?" In the wake of this congress which met with great interest from our members, the FIEC introduced a working group dedicated to BIM and chaired by our Vice President for technical and environmental affairs Mr. Kjetil Tonning, who comes from our Norwegian federation (EBA - Norwegian Contractors Association). 

Our goals is to promote digitalisation in the construction sector to enable it to get the most out of this technological revolution! Some countries and some companies have already made great progress in this area. We want companies of all sizes to be able to jump aboard the train. If they are unable to adapt in time, contractors risk finding themselves disqualified. Our mission as European and national trade federations is to help our members cross this threshold. We are already exchanging a lot about all of the good national initiatives which have been deployed to help our companies take their first steps. 

Next, our role is also to raise awareness among public sector decision makers so that they also promote digitalisation, but in a way that leaves nobody by the wayside. It's important for example, that the different systems implemented are interoperable, that their access is open to all at reasonable cost. This is particularly true when addressing the issue of electronic public procurement, which is starting to gain ground under the impulsion of the latest revised European directives in the area. 

We have to quit a world of paper and of conflict between various actors, and instead welcome a new electronic and collaborative world, in order to gain in efficiency and competitivity ! And by doing so, there is a whole new world of opportunity before us ! 

What can the companies you represent expect of INTERMAT in terms of development and expertise? 

The major meetings of the industry such as INTERMAT are always excellent opportunities for European companies to make themselves known across borders, present their know-how and build contacts with a large number of potential clients and suppliers. At the same time it's also a good way for these same contractors to discover new market trends, including internationally, cutting edge techniques and technology in the sector, new materials and new machines, etc. It's particularly a good time to make some great deals ! 

It's a very good thing that there are so many companies attending from all over the world. It goes to further reinforce the sharing of experience and expertise in the sector.