Chemical firms back call for stronger business environment in EU

Tom Brown

20-Feb-2024

LONDON (ICIS)–The chief executives of BASF, INEOS, Covestro, Clariant and Dow Europe among others on Tuesday backed a new declaration calling for stronger European Commission prioritisation of business, calling for an industrial deal to be placed at the core of the new Parliament.

Over 70 business leaders were present in Antwerp, Belgium, on Tuesday to present the proposals, known as The Antwerp Declaration for a European Industrial Deal, to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Belgium Prime Minister Alexander De Croo.

Attendees from the sector included INEOS’ Jim Ratcliffe, BASF’s Martin Brudermuller and TotalEnergies’ Patrick Pouyanne , as well as Markus Steilemann of Covestro, Matthias Zachert of LANXESS, Conrad Keijzer of Clariant and Antti Salminen of Kemira.

Senior regional figures of large international producers including SABIC Europe vice president Mark Williams, Dow Europe president Neil Carr, DuPont Europe president Pierrick Le Gallo, ExxonMobil Petroleum and Chemical president Philippe Ducom were also present.

Energy-intensive industries in Europe have struggled with the impact of high energy prices since the onset of the Russia-Ukraine war in early 2022, along with weak demand that has seen recessionary manufacturing sector conditions for most of the year.

Demand growth has also remained tepid, with eurozone GDP expanding 0.1% in each of the first two quarters of the year, contracting 0.1% in July-August, and  at a standstill in the closing months of 2023.

“Basic industries in Europe are grappling with historical challenges: demand is declining, investments in the continent are stalling, production has dropped significantly, and sites are threatened. We want to drive the transformation of our companies, said Brudermuller.

“For this, we urgently need decisive action to create the conditions for a stronger business case in Europe,” he added.

The election of a new European Parliament is expected this year, and the declaration signatories called for a comprehensive industrial plan to be placed at the heart of EU strategy, including “actions to eliminate regulatory incoherence, conflicting objectives., unnecessary complexity in legislation and over reporting,” the declaration said.

Reducing energy costs, stronger infrastructure investment, raw materials security and strengthening the single market are also among the calls made in the declaration, as well as stronger backing for clean technology projects through operating as well as capital expenditure support.

The declaration also calls European policymakers to do more to encourage demand for net-zero and circular products through public procurement and EU-backed private buyer initiatives.

Writing separately to von der Leyen, INEOS’ Jim Ratcliffe stated that Europe is “sleepwalking towards offshoring its industry, jobs, investments, and emissions”, and stating that the current EU framework is insufficient to renew the region’s ageing chemical base.

Ratcliffe contrasted the EU Green Deal with the US Inflation Reduction Act, which he claims offers stronger incentives for green investment, and noting the legal issues and delays that INEOS has faced trying to build its Antwerp cracker.

Tatiana Santos, head of chemicals at EU association the European Environmental Bureau, warned about future Commission policy backing “the prioritisation of polluters’ profits over public health and the environment.”

Thumbnail photo: Ursula von der Leyen with numerous chemical industry chiefs at the industry summit taking place at BASF’s Antwerp, Belgium, complex on 20 February. Source: Cefic

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