Socioeconomic situation of the construction sector in Europe

20/08/2021

  • This article was written by FIEC for the EDA Yearbook 2020.

When we speak about construction, it is important to have in mind what it represents in the overall European economy. FIEC publishes once a year a statistical report and according to the latest issue the overall construction activity in the EU was around 1.300 billion euros, which corresponds to 9.5% of the European GDP. There are more than 3.000.000 construction companies in the sector, most of them small ones and around 13.000.000 workers. It is therefore a sector which has a significant social and economic weight in the economy.

In the last months, the construction sector has been severely hit by the COVID crisis. The activity restarted after a while with some specific sanitary protocols and requirements, which have also an impact on companies. Now the activity has come back to a normal level, but with additional costs and a lower productivity related to these sanitary requirements.

FIEC is collecting data from its member federations and this data shows that the situation varies significantly from one country to the other. Overall, for 2020 the drop in activity compared to 2019 should be around 10% on average, with much more dramatic figures in some countries, around -20% for Italy and Spain, for example. Other countries, like Austria or Finland for example, show a more stable situations with a small decrease of 1%.

But the most worrying is the situation for 2021 and beyond because even for the better performing countries there are a lot of uncertainties as regards both public and private future investments.

However, despite these uncertainties there are two main reasons that indicate that we shouldn’t be too worried or pessimistic. The first one can be the European Green Deal, which aims at bringing the EU to reach carbon neutrality by 2050. Such ambitious goal cannot be achieved without the direct involvement of the construction industry.

The second reason that provides us with some optimisms is that if we look at the fundings that should be made available by the Europe Union for the Member States in the framework of the recovery from the Covid crisis. The national recovery and resilience plans will need to be in line with the European priorities, the European Green Deal and the digital transition, so the involvement of the construction sector is clear.

In order to be able to benefit from these two opportunities, there are two main conditions that need to be fulfilled. First of all, today we realise that construction companies in several member states have difficulties in finding workers with the right skills and competences. This means that there is an urgent need to focus and to invest in training and education.

The second element of importance is the complete change that has been observed in the patterns, the structures and the interactions between the stakeholders in the construction sector. This means that we need an increasing, a better and a stronger partnership between all the actors through the value chain of the construction sector.

At the European level, we have already taken this into account and we have set up what we call the “Construction 2050 Alliance”, in which 47 European organisations having a link with the construction sector, including EDA, decided to participate. The main aim of this Alliance is to reinforce the political weight of the whole construction sector towards the EU Institutions. By joining forces between the builders, the workers, the material producers, the machines manufacturers, etc. we want to get rid of the fragmentation that usually characterises the organisation of the construction sector and speak all together with one single voice.