EBC Annual Congress: Construction SMEs as the driver of Sustainable Economic growth in Europe

On 20 June 2014 builders from several European countries and their representatives met during the EBC Annual Congress in Palermo, organised by EBC and CNA Costruzioni. Access to finance and measures to counter the crisis of the sector during the next European legislative period were amongst the topics addressed. Participants discussed this with Members of the Italian Government, and representatives of the European Commission and Financial Institutions.

CNA President Daniele VACCARINO (from the Italian association of craftsmen and SMEs, CNA) underlined the challenges the building sector has to face: green economy and energy efficiency; late payments, particularly in Italy; access to finance.

Sicilian Minister for Economy Roberto AGNELLO welcomed the participants on behalf of the Sicilian Government. He expressed the will of his Regional government to boost entrepreneurship in order to counter the economic crisis in the South of Italy.

EBC President José Antonio CALVO DELGADO presented the priorities for construction SMEs for the next five years. These were published earlier in December 2013 in the EBC Manifesto and will guide the work of the European Builders Confederation in the next European legislative mandate.

Italian Vice Minister for Transport and Infrastructures Riccardo NENCINI presented the priorities of the upcoming Italian Presidency of the Council of the European Union, with particular regard to infrastructures: relaunch of the project bonds; infrastructure networks; Ports; Single European Sky. He underlined that Italy will try to make the most out of its increased credibility to achieve these objectives.

Euroconstruct expert Michael WEINGÄRTLER showed the economic situation for the building sector. This was highly affected by the economic recession and the general negative performance of the economy. He explained that the big losses experienced by the sector between 2007 and 2012 will not be compensated before 2016.

Fedeart Fidi Executive Director Leonardo NAFISSI featured the Italian system of “Confidi”. This provides small and medium enterprises with guarantees in order to help them to obtain a loan more easily.

Senior Adviser of DG REGIO’s Director General Wolfgang STREITENBERGER presented the opportunities that the European regional policy and structural funds under the next programming period 2014-2020 offer to small and medium enterprises. He underlined that among the objectives that must be achieved by the operational programmes there is enhancing SME competitiveness. Moreover, he explained that in the next period at least 10% of the structural funds must be allocated as financial instruments like loans and guarantees (and not like grant anymore). Finally, he presented how the European Commission supports cooperation in regional development projects which go beyond national borders.

European Investment Bank senior banker Tilmann KUHFUSS explained how the European Investment Bank group supports SMEs. In 2013, the EIB dedicated 21.9 billion euros out of a total 75.1 billion to projects enhancing growth in SMEs.

Commissioner Tajani’s cabinet member Massimo BALDINATO concluded the day, by recalling the European Commission’s initiatives for SMEs in the last years. Among the positive results, he included the exclusion of SMEs from Basel III criteria; the division of public procurement contracts into lots; measures in favour of internationalisation; the directive against late payments. The Commission will continue this efforts towards a SME-friendly policy, as announced in the EC Communication on industrial policy in January 2014.