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Meaning to make a mark

Great George St hosts the European Council of Civil Engineers' six-monthly meeting this weekend. President Antonio Adao da Fonseca aims to make the organisation the cornerstone of a secure future for the civil engineering profession in the expanding Europ

This is the first year of Professor Antonio Adao da Fonseca's three year term as president of the European Council of Civil Engineers. He was at the helm for a year before that, however, after being initially elected for a single year term and has clear ideas for the role of ECCE.

'It is very important that engineers get together from across Europe to help both technical understanding and to resolve cultural differences, ' he says.

'The future implies that everyone will have to work together to benefit across the continent.'

He is no career politician but a working professional. His day job is as director of AFA Consulting based in Oporto in Portugal.

He is also a full time professor at the the city's university specialising in structural engineering and bridge design.

Closest to his heart is the creation of a simplified and harmonised code of ethics for the profession. 'People want to know what the basics are. If the only rule is money then it will be a disaster for the profession, ' Adao da Fonseca explains.

'What unites us is not just common knowledge but also the ethics that hold us together - the set of rules for the profession and for the public.'

He says that while the basic values for professional conduct are the same across Europe, there is still a difference in the way they are applied. In some countries, notably Scandinavia, the culture is to expose mistakes. In others the practice is to try to hide errors first.

A European Charter for Civil Engineers is his goal. 'I hope that each country will be able to keep its traditions but that, with a charter in place, engineers will be able to move around Europe more easily under a common professional culture and mutually recognisable qualifications.'

One of the ECCE's key roles is to ensure that information passes around Europe effectively.

The internet simplifies this task but it also highlights the importance of the quality of the information. Particularly in the emerging Eastern European nations, this high quality information is crucial as they begin to build their professions.

But ECCE is concerned that even more mature nations still lack a centralised accreditation for the profession. France and Germany for example do not have such well-established professional recognition as the UK's Institution of Civil Engineers.

The UK ICE plays a central role in ECCE by providing secretariat support. President George Fleming explains: 'I am happy that the ICE is playing an active role in advising on and supporting the work of the decision makers throughout Europe.'

But a central clearing house for accreditation, Adao da Fonseca believes, may solve many problems. 'We cannot control the quality of products across Europe so we must ensure the professionals are always of the highest possible standard.'

ECCE also plays a vital role for the civil engineering profession in assisting the formation of European legislation. While Adao da Fonseca wants to boost this influence, it is clear that the European Commission already readily turns to ECCE members to guide its decisions - often simply because the issues are complex and ECCE has a track record of impartial but sound advice.

'Our main function will continue to be keeping the European profession fully up to date with what is coming out of Brussels, ' he says.

'The directives are very strong and very clear but they have to be implemented by people - our job is to help people understand what is required and to convince them that they are in the best interests of everyone.'

The facts The European Council of Civil Engineers was founded in 1985.

ECCE's role is to promote the highest technical and ethical standards for the profession across Europe.

It represents 35 countries from inside and outside the European Union.

Total number of professional civil engineers represented exceeds 500,000.

The Council meets every six months to inform members and update task force progress.

This week is the 32nd meeting of ECCE.

The are six task forces running at the moment and to be reported at this weekend's meeting: Research and development Environment Procurement Information technology Education Professional recognition

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