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27.2.

98 EN Official Journal of the European Communities C 64/1

II
(Preparatory Acts)

COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS

Opinion of the Committee of the Regions on ‘Benchmarking: implementation of an instrument


available to economic actors and public authorities’

(98/C 64/01)

THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS,

having regard to the Communication from the European Commission on Benchmarking:


Implementation of an instrument available to economic actors and public authorities
(COM(97) 153 final);
having regard to the decision taken by the European Commission on 18 April 1997, under
Article 198c of the Treaty establishing the European Community, to consult the Committee
of the Regions on the matter;
having regard to its decision of 11 June 1997 to direct Commission 1 for Regional Development,
Economic Development and Local and Regional Finances to draw up the relevant opinion;
having regard to the draft opinion (CdR 245/97 rev.) adopted by Commission 1 on 12 September
1997 (rapporteur: Mr Valcárcel Siso);
having regard to the Communication from the European Commission on Benchmarking the
competitiveness of European industry (COM(96) 463 final);
having regard to the European Parliament report on the abovementioned communications
and on the Commission staff working paper concerning a European quality promotion policy
for improving European competitiveness (SEC(96) 2000),
unanimously adopted the following opinion at its plenary session of 19 and 20 November
1997 (meeting of 19 November).

1. Introduction 1.2. Company competitiveness rests on a series of


internal and external factors which can be compared
and analysed with a view to identifying best practices
and then adapting them to the situation of each company.
1.1. The Committee of the Regions considers that This comparison is conducted by using a technique
the development of the EU’s industrial competitiveness known as benchmarking.
is a key factor in social development, which is achieved
through the steady improvement of productivity and of 1.3. Since no company is best in all aspects and there
the quality of goods and services. is no region where the operating conditions are optimum
at all levels, benchmarking will always be beneficial for
all the parties being compared, as they will become
Boosting competitiveness is also the key to consolidating acquainted with the best practices for boosting competi-
and creating jobs in EU companies. tiveness.
C 64/2 EN Official Journal of the European Communities 27.2.98

1.4. The various sectors that make up the industrial promote competitiveness, as lack of competitiveness
fabric of the Member States generally have a regional places a major brake on industrial development.
basis; this means that any improvement or loss of
competitiveness will have a direct impact on the inhabi-
tants of the region concerned. Thus, without prejudice 3.2. Considers that, in order to assess the competi-
to EU or national industrial policies, action by the tiveness of these framework conditions, it would be
regional authorities is of vital importance as they are helpful to use the following parameters:
the tier of authority closest to the grassroots, and are
most familiar with the problems and able to tackle them
more quickly. a) R& D infrastructure;

b) education and labour force;

2. The utility and benefits of benchmarking c) corporate governance;

d) labour market regulation;


The Committee of the Regions:
e) labour costs;
2.1. Notes that, since the purpose of benchmarking
is to identify best practices, it is important to define the f) corporate taxation;
fields of study very precisely and obtain sufficient
information to facilitate the transfer of know-how and g) energy costs;
experience, as benchmarking is of particular benefit if
each factor is analysed rigorously.
h) telecommunications infrastructure costs;

2.2. Considers that benchmarking will be beneficial i) general infrastructure (e.g. connections with the rail
not only for large companies; its application will be and road network, ease of access to airports);
especially useful for small and medium-sized businesses,
as they have fewer means of obtaining through other
channels the information that is necessary in any j) complexity and speed of administrative procedures;
benchmarking process.
k) availability of financial support.

2.3. Considers that while isolated changes are wel-


come, it is important that businesses concentrate on 3.3. Stresses the need for both national governments
programmes for boosting productivity over the long and regional authorities to adopt effective measures
term and securing steady improvements in the quality for removing the obstacles that make it difficult for
of their goods and services. This can be furthered by the businesses to realize their full production potential.
regular and structured use of benchmarking. Benchmarking studies which compare regions would
be extremely useful and would help to improve the
framework conditions.
2.4. Notes that benchmarking within the EU can be
done at company and sectoral level, and can also cover
the framework conditions in which the players operate. 3.4. Considers that sectoral benchmarking can be
Benchmarking of the framework conditions in which very important for stimulating cooperation between
countries and regions operate will reveal any factors companies, which the EU highlights as one of the
which make it difficult for their industries to become principal mechanisms for improving competitiveness.
more competitive.
3.5. Underlines the fact that an increase in competi-
tiveness through the use of comparative assessments
must not bring about a one-sided reduction in worker
3. External factors protection rights; on the contrary, there must, as the
Commission itself points out, be an adequate level of
stability and job-security. Against the background of
the ongoing drive to achieve greater flexibility in work,
The Committee of the Regions: labour law and social law must clearly be observed in
employment relationships and in the distinction to be
drawn between wage-earners and the self-employed.
3.1. Considers that benchmarking of the framework There must be no question of reducing standards of
conditions in which countries and regions operate is protection as a result of comparisons with non-EU
vital in order to identify conditions which particularly markets.
27.2.98 EN Official Journal of the European Communities C 64/3

4. Internal factors relating to quality and competi- 5.4. Calls on governments to make comparisons
tiveness between the policies pursued by different regions and
countries regarding such aspects as industrial develop-
ment, job creation and environmental protection, so
The Committee of the Regions: that the most successful practices in each field can be
passed on.
4.1. Basing itself on the studies carried out by a group
of European consultancies, which identified the main
factors that determine business quality and competi- 5.5. Also calls on governments to devote special
tiveness, calls for the use of benchmarking as an attention to education and public health programmes,
instrument for continually improving management pro- with a view to identifying and disseminating the most
cedures and systems. The factors to be assessed are as worthwhile policies and practices regarding, for exam-
follows: ple, the relation between training, companies and
occupational health.
a) quality and time-frames for the development of new
products;
5.6. Attaches special significance to environmental
b) quality of suppliers; aspects, as increases in company competitiveness must
be sustainable from the point of view of the environment
c) process automation; and the quality of life, which must be enhanced continu-
ally. Hence the importance of adopting environmental
d) manufacturing flexibility and time-frames; measures, taking account of regional interests in this
field and in the optimum use of energy resources, making
e) quality of the manufacturing process; greater use of renewable energy sources, and pooling
experience among regional and local authorities.
f) maintenance;

g) distribution strategy; 5.7. Calls on governments to liberalize their econo-


mies and bring in mechanisms to encourage competition,
h) quality of customer service; drawing on successful experiences in this field in different
countries.
i) human factor;

j) information systems and organization. 5.8. Considers that in order to reinforce the applica-
bility of the importance of benchmarking for public
authorities, the High Level Group on Benchmarking
4.2. Considers that although a comparative assess- should include representatives of local and regional
ment of companies working in different institutional government.
and cultural environments is not easy, the advantages
gleaned from such an assessment can do much to
improve quality and competitiveness.
6. Conclusions
5. Application to the public authorities

The Committee of the Regions:


The Committee of the Regions:

5.1. Notes that the public authorities contribute 6.1. Warmly welcomes the European Commission’s
significantly to the GDP of the Member States as they analysis of benchmarking as a preliminary industrial
are an important provider of goods and services, whose policy exercise.
efficiency and effectiveness has an important influence
on industrial development.
6.2. Recognizes that although companies are the
5.2. Considers that the public authorities should main protagonists in industrial competitiveness, it is
benchmark their activities with the priority aim of important that the EU and its national and regional
improving the services which they offer to businesses authorities promote active policies for exchanging and
and to the public. comparing experience.

5.3. Considers that it is the responsibility of govern-


ments to adjust legislative and financial conditions so 6.3. Emphasizes the importance of benchmarking the
that it is easier for companies to become competitive, performance of SMEs, as they form the basis of the
bringing these conditions closer to those in the regions industrial fabric and make it more competitive, thereby
of the EU which are better placed. also helping to consolidate employment.
C 64/4 EN Official Journal of the European Communities 27.2.98

6.4. Supports initiatives such as the recently estab- 6.7. On the basis of its positive appraisal of the
lished European benchmarking network, set up by the Commission communication and the launch of pilot
European Foundation for Quality Management, and schemes in the fields envisaged therein, suggests that
its possible linkage with the Global Benchmarking pilot benchmarking schemes be carried out on such
Network. Where information about international com- aspects as industrial development, job creation, environ-
petitors is available, and where these are more advanced mental protection and public administration, drawing
than those in the EU, the world class standard should on existing European programmes and the various
be specified. cooperation and experience-swapping programmes
between regions that have a similar industrial base.
6.5. Calls on governments to use benchmarking as a
6.8. Asks the Commission to establish mechanisms
mechanism for evening out regional differences, by
for making resources available, so that regional and
comparing local conditions and industries with a view
local authorities can initiate benchmarking processes
to boosting competitiveness and thus speeding up wealth
that help them to identify and apply the best techniques
creation.
in all their fields of work.

6.6. Suggests that pilot benchmarking schemes be 6.9. Urges regional and local authorities, develop-
carried out via some of the European support pro- ment agencies, employers’ organizations and trade
grammes and via the various programmes for encourag- unions to use benchmarking techniques to carry out
ing cooperation and experience-swapping between studies of industrial competitiveness in different regions
regions that have a similar industrial base. and sectors.

Brussels, 19 November 1997.

The Chairman
of the Committee of the Regions
Pasqual MARAGALL i MIRA