Five countries in the European Union, Belgium, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain, already operate a legally based system of qualification. Under the EC mandate, all member countries will be bound to mutually recognise construction companies wherever qualified, at least until those countries already operating a system eventually harmonise their criteria in line with the new standards when they are ratified.
Existing systems in these countries have a number of common aspects, in particular the classification of companies into categories by size, type of activity and turnover etc. These countries are obviously in favour of developing a set of European Standards which include these basic elements.
However a significant number of countries not operating a system of qualification are seeking a system which has in general a lower base level when it comes to classification of technical criteria.
EFFC suspects that in the longer term the approach will be harmonisation of the existing national qualification systems within the European Standard, and new systems set up in those countries which do not presently have national systems. While in agreement with the underlying principles, EFFC's Chris Harnan believes there remain major obstacles in the detail of the draft standard prEN330.
'Although the original motivation to prepare the European Standard was to provide a qualification system to open up cross border markets, prEN330 will only apply to public works contracts over ECU5M,' he says.
'In many trades however, nearly all contract values are below this figure and since it is not practical to have a separate qualification system for small contracts, prEn330 needs to take account of
smaller project values.'
Furthermore while extensive debate has arisen within TC 330 over the definition of general contractor,
there is no definition of a specialist contractor. The document does not expressly refer to specialist contractors and does not take account of the differences between general and specialist contractors.
The draft also fails to account for the fact that most specialist contractors are generally small or medium sized companies and the great majority of their contracts fall below the ECU200,000 proposed for the lowest contract value covered.
A qualification system suitable for specialist contractors requires contract/project values appropriate to each trade - because for example a relatively small foundation contract by value would be a moderately large tiling contract.