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Industries unite in seeking European policy overhaul

Leaders from 17 industries present the European Commission president with an action plan to ‘restore competitiveness’ and ‘keep good jobs in Europe’

by Alex Scott
February 21, 2024 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 102, Issue 6


Industry leaders gathered for a photo in Antwerp, Belgium. Some in front are holding documents.
Credit: Thomas Hansenne
Chemical industry leaders including BASF CEO Martin Brudermüller (front row, left) and Syensqo CEO Ilham Kadri (front row, right) were among those presenting the Antwerp Declaration for a European Industrial Deal to European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen (front row, second from left).

A group of 73 executives spanning 17 industries met at BASF’s site in Antwerp, Belgium, to present European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen with an action plan for industry in Europe. It features 10 policy changes that they say the commission must make to ensure their industries remain competitive, resilient, and sustainable “in the face of dire economic conditions.”

The signers of the plan, called the Antwerp Declaration for a European Industrial Deal, included chemical and pharmaceutical company leaders such as BASF CEO Martin Brudermüller, Bayer CEO Bill Anderson, Lanxess CEO Matthias Zachert, and Synesqo CEO Ilham Kadri.

“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,” Brudermüller said at the meeting. “The Antwerp Declaration outlines a pathway ahead.”

The policy changes demanded at the Feb. 20 event include providing stronger support for major European Union projects, ensuring raw material self-sufficiency, fostering demand for sustainable products, and nurturing of innovation. Streamlining legislation and simplifying complex rules concerning state aid are also necessary, according to the declaration. Industries calling for the policy changes include cement, ceramics, mining, paper, steel, and textiles.

The executives say the region’s overarching industrial policy, known as the European Union Industrial Deal, needs to be folded into the EC’s main strategic agenda, which includes becoming climate neutral by 2050. By placing the industrial deal at the forefront of Europe’s strategic agenda, “the EU would pave the way for a resilient, competitive, and sustainable Europe,” Brudermüller said.

Ineos CEO Jim Ratcliffe supported the Antwerp Declaration with a letter to von der Leyen. “The cost of gas in Europe is five times more expensive even today at these much lower prices than it is in America,” he writes. Meanwhile, Ineos is paying carbon taxes of about $160 million per year on chemicals produced in Europe, while “95% of imports don’t pay carbon taxes.” His conclusion: Europe is “sleepwalking towards offshoring its industry, jobs, investments, and emissions.”

State aid of the type the executives want to simplify has become a significant carrot the EC dangles to push industry to become climate neutral. Earlier this month, for example, it approved up to $7.5 billion in aid across several countries for 33 projects associated with the production of green hydrogen, including water electrolysis plants and hydrogen distribution and storage facilities.

Also earlier this month, the EC approved state aid of up to $4.3 billion in Germany for companies—including chemical firms—subject to Europe’s carbon emission trading system to decarbonize their production processes. To qualify, projects will need to achieve a 60% emission reduction over 3 years and a 90% emission reduction over 15 years compared with the best available conventional technologies.

This story was updated on Feb. 22, 2024, to correct the name of the action plan for industry in the caption. It is the Antwerp Declaration for a European Industrial Deal, not the Antwerp Accord.



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