Commission proposes to increase competitiveness of textiles/clothing and construction

Proposals emanating from the European Commission's Directorate-General III (Industry) in October and November 1997 seek to increase the competitiveness of the European textiles/clothing and construction industries by highlighting the importance of training, the introduction and application of quality standards and the application of new technologies.

In October and November 1997, based on proposals by Martin Bangemann, the commissioner responsible for industry, the European Commission adopted communications to the Council of Ministers, the European Parliament and Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions, aimed at improving the competitiveness of two sectors of European industry - textiles/clothing and construction.

The communication on a Plan of action to increase the competitiveness of the European textile and clothing industry centres on: employment and training; the development of new products, processes and equipment; the application of information technology; the effective functioning of the internal market; and the promotion of regional development. This is a sector which has over the last 10 years experienced a significant decline in the European Union as a result of increased competition, the rationalisation of production processes and a decline in demand. As a result of the continuation of these pressures and the gradual phasing out of the Multi-Fibre Agreement (MFA), which was designed to protect producers in industrialised economies from excessive competition from the developing countries, it is anticipated that between 500,000 and over 2 million jobs will be lost in the EU (according to "Globalisation of the footwear, textiles and clothing industries", ILO, 1996).

In light of these developments there was clearly a need for action. The recent communication was drawn up in close cooperation with representatives of the sector participating in the Textile and Clothing Industry Forum held in June 1996 and followed up by working parties with the participation of various industry-specific associations, trade unions, Member State governments and the Commission. Through this dialogue, the Commission has sought to assess the effectiveness of measures, policies and initiatives currently being implemented at national and Community level in these areas which have a direct bearing on the competitiveness of the sector.

The two sides of industry have made a number of recommendations, which will be translated by the Commission into the following actions:

  • steps have already been taken to develop new products, methods and equipment, as well as the application of information technology and electronic commerce techniques in the sector. Furthermore a "thematic network" is to be set up for research purposes;
  • a study on tax avoidance and the submerged economy has been promoted by the Commission and a Green Paper on this subject is being drafted;
  • in the area of tax legislation with regard to the transfer of family businesses, a forum has been held on a 1994 Recommendation on the transfer of small and medium-sized enterprises. A Commission communication on follow-up action will be presented shortly;
  • training requirements in the clothing subsector have been examined by the social partners, and a similar initiative is planned in the textiles sector. A number of projects put forward by the two sides of industry are being considered;
  • a practical guide to the legal systems governing industrial subcontracting in the European Community and a guide to partnership in industrial subcontracting has been available since September 1997; and
  • the Commission will continue its efforts to improve the access of European products to the markets of third countries. The Commission will apply the instruments of commercial policy available to it, whenever the situation so requires.

The communication on The competitiveness of the construction industry adopted by the Commission outlines four strategic objectives aimed at enhancing the competitiveness of the sector:

  • to develop a coherent quality policy to reduce cost and ensure a more environmentally-friendly use of resources;
  • to improve the regulatory environment to make public procurement more accessible to non-national bidders;
  • to improve provision of education and training to eliminate the shortage of skilled workers in times of expansion; and
  • to reorient and reinforce research and development to stimulate innovation.

Construction is one of the largest sectors in Europe in terms of employment and is seen to be a key sector for job creation.

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