With an EU Industrial Competitiveness Deal in the pipeline for the next mandate, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo invited European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to Antwerp on Tuesday (19 February) to consider the future of the EU’s chemical industry.
Von der Leyen heads to Antwerp for closed-door meeting with chemicals industry

A central part of von der Leyen’s bid for a second mandate, announced on Monday, is boosting Europe’s industrial competitiveness.

Tuesday’s closed-door meeting is a first step in her efforts to make that a reality – although environmental groups have criticised the secretive nature of the meeting, decrying it as a bad start to legislative planning.

Gathered at the Antwerp plant of BASF – the world’s largest chemical company – von der Leyen will meet more than 60 industrial players alongside Belgium’s Prime Minister Alexander De Croo.

Nowhere is Europe’s struggle for industrial competitiveness more palpable than in the chemical industry supercluster of the mega-ports of Antwerp and Rotterdam, at which the chemicals that feature in everything from wind turbines to electronic devices are manufactured.

These companies are in direct competition with their Chinese counterparts, while being subject to much more stringent environmental regulations.

The industry is under pressure to decarbonise: its annual emissions exceed those of Belgium, and the sector remains subject to the EU’s carbon pricing system, the Emissions Trading Scheme.

In October 2022, BASF announced it would “permanently” scale back its operations in Europe, citing rising energy costs and concerns over regulation. The company has been eyeing a relocation to China: the current CEO, Martin Brudermüller, will be replaced by Markus Kamieth in April who was previously in charge of the company’s Asia business.

Laying out demands

In Antwerp, Europe’s chemical industry association CEFIC will present a list of fixes to their ails at the invitation of the Belgian prime minister.

The rallying cry will be called something akin to the “Antwerp Declaration for a European Industrial Deal”.

Their list of grievances is long: EU chemical rules are due for a delayed revamp in the coming years, energy prices remain on the high end, and EU packaging rules threaten demand for one of the industry’s main products.

Chemical companies have found an ally in De Croo, who cherishes his country’s steel, manufacturing and chemical industries – and has been calling for “action for the industry” by way of an “Industrial Deal” for almost a year.

Another key demand of the company alliance is expected to be easier and quicker access to state support – in private, the lobbyists of chemical companies are quick to slam the restrictions imposed by Brussels in the name of protecting Europe’s level playing field.

Transparency concerns

“This event heightens an obvious concern: the prioritisation of polluters’ profits over public health and the environment,” said Tatiana Santos, head of chemicals at the European Environmental Bureau.

Pressure group Corporate Observatory Europe said that “crying wolf pays off for the chemicals industry,” adding that green groups had not been invited to the Antwerp get-together.

“The Antwerp Industry Summit is the wrong opening salvo to a much-needed debate,” said Domien Vangenechten, a senior policy advisor at the green group E3G – while criticising the closed-door nature of the discussions.

“An inclusive and integrated European approach can seize the competitive opportunities presented by its regional strengths, rather than play them off against one another,” said Vangenechten.

Source: euractiv.com


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