Building’s round-up of the 300 biggest European contractors reveals that French firms Vinci and Bouygues have stormed to the top. Sonia Soltani went to Paris to meet the men responsible for the Gallic triumph.

Vive la France!
Vive la France!

French giants Vinci and Bouygues have finally beaten their Swedish rival, Skanska to the title of largest contractors in Europe. In fact, 10 of the top 30 firms based in the country of Champagne and Camembert. Over the next five pages, Building interviews the two colossuses of the French market, Philippe Ratynski of Vinci and Yves Gabriel of Bouygues. Both point to their firms’ engineering skills as a main reasons for French success.

They also allude to the strength of the nation’s materials production, particularly in cement; this gives them the resources to win and build major projects – a fact that is borne out by the materials league table (page 51-55), where another French double act, Saint-Gobain and Lafarge, sit comfortably atop the pile.

Last year Building argued that Spain was the rising power in European construction. There seems to be some confirmation of this this year with ACS threatening the dominance of the traditional top four – Vinci, Bouygues, Skanska and German outfit Hochtief – after registering a turnover of nearly *11bn (£7.6bn) thanks to a merger with fellow Spanish group Dragados at the end of 2003.

Spain also has four contractors in the top 20, ahead of the UK, which can boast only three. Our giants are Amec, which sneaks into the top 10 with a turnover just shy of *7bn (£4.8bn), Balfour Beatty and Taylor Woodrow.

Wolseley continues to fly the flag for Britain in the materials league, closing in marginally on Lafarge with sales of nearly €12bn (£8.3bn). Six British firms made the top 20, one up on the 2003/04 table.

All in all, though, this is very much a Gallic year, and it is the Tricolour that flies high above the European construction industry.