What Has the EU Done for Civil Engineering?
Those of you within the UK should be painfully aware that we’ll be voting to decide whether or not we want to leave Europe (politically; geographically would be much more impressive and probably require a lot of sea turbines). I’m going to save some time and just tell you that I’m voting to stay in, but regardless how you’re voting-
Here are five things that the EU has done for civil engineering:
Love ’em or loathe them the Eurocodes have certainly changed things. And while I might argue about the execution, the Eurocodes have done a lot to help unify and allow us to benefit from design and construction research and practices across the continent. Whether or not it manages to achieve its ultimate goal of making engineering design transcend its borders has yet to be seen.
They have, however, lead to the similar Construction Products Regulation (CPR)16. Thanks to these regulations, driven by the codes, there are now more than 450 “harmonised” standards for construction products. This means that all building products sold within Europe can be guaranteed to meet a Eurocode level specification; lessening the testing burden on engineers.
European Investment Bank
What do the Thames Tideway Tunnel, the Manchester Metrolink and schools in Croydon have in common? They’ve all been funded by the European Investment Bank. The EIB, whose stakeholders are each of the EU members, work by financing a portion (normally a third) of each project they support. This creates a degree of security that encourages further public and private investment.
Unlike normal banks, the EIB focuses on projects that help achieve the long term goals of the EU, including projects that combat climate change, improve energy security and support technological development for SMEs. It is also responsible for loaning us £1bn to help TfL fund Crossrail!
You know those colourful bar charts with a letter giving the energy rating pretty much every building you enter; guess who was responsible for those? And while they might seem like a toothless exercise, they’ve done a lot to inform home and asset owners of their energy losses and, more positively, their potential energy benefits and how they can realise them.
The EU has, through the Energy Efficiency Directive take a more proactive role in improving our buildings; requiring all new constructions to be nearly zero-energy by the end of 2020, as well an necessitating public bodies to improve the energy ratings of 3% of their assets every year.
Sharing and Unifying Knowledge
Did you know that the EU has a BIM Task Group; leading to the largest worldwide concentration of government-led BIM programmes? What about the European Construction Sector Observatory; which monitors market conditions and provides policy holders with a platform to share experiences and learn from each other?
Whatever else the EU is, it’s a diverse group of nations who have all collected in an attempt to see what they can achieve together. With this comes the opportunity for the free exchange of ideas; and while I would never say we need the EU to do this, it certainly does facilitate it.
Health and Safety
Remember those CDM requirements? Well, to the EU they’re H&S Directive 92/57/EEC. It’s hard to find a precise measure on the level of influence the EU has had on our growing focus on health and safety and the industry improvements we’ve seen from it- however it’s fair to say that we have benefited from constantly being driven by EU directives.
Health, Safety and Welfare is very much a luxury of civilisation; the decision to spend extra resource in order to reduce the likeliness of accidents and improve the quality of working life is a moral one. And it is all too easy, in times of economic pressure, to trade this away to maintain profit margins. Being answerable to a separate entity outside our own political whims has certainly helped protect our health, safety and well-being.