The chemicals industry is one of Europe’s largest manufacturing sectors. As an ‘enabling industry’, it plays a pivotal role in providing innovative materials and technological solutions to support Europe's industrial competitiveness.
The chemicals industry produces petrochemicals, polymers, basic inorganics, specialties, and consumer chemicals.
The sector is currently undergoing rapid structural change as it faces major challenges, including increased competition from other countries and rising costs. However, at the same time, the industry has recovered quickly from the economic crisis and has remained relatively stable in terms of total sales.
The EU sets up rules for chemicals and European Commission launched a number of initiatives to foster competitiveness in the European chemicals industry. It implements policies to facilitate structural change, e.g. the sustainable chemicals sector, which includes bio-refineries and plastics recycling, helps attract investment to Europe. It also helps reinforce the EU industrial base and encourages investment in research and innovation. Structural change is also facilitated through cluster policies and the further implementation of smart specialisation regional strategies. A High Level Group on the Competitiveness of the EU Chemicals Industry was set up and steps were taken based on its findings. These include making improvements to the regulatory framework (e.g. undertaking cumulative cost assessments and fitness checks on relevant regulation, and providing guidance and support on regulation to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)).
Importance of the EU Chemicals Industry
A competitive chemical industry supports the improvement of living standards, and generates employment and wealth. This fuels innovation and development throughout the economic system. The industry is a solution provider for many societal challenges, as well as other sectors. Furthermore, the EU chemicals industry:
represents around 7% of EU industrial production
has sales amounting to EUR 519 billion (2015), which is about 17 % of global chemicals sales
provides 1.2 million direct highly-skilled jobs (2015);
secures three times more jobs in other industries through indirect employment
has the second highest share of added value per employee (after pharmaceuticals)
represents around 1.1 % share of EU GDP
generates a trade surplus of EUR 49 billion (2013)
The chemicals industry is at the heart of the EU manufacturing industry. It supplies two-thirds of its production to other sectors within the manufacturing industry. Other important links exist with agriculture and services. The EU chemicals sector is very innovative and is a strong solution provider for societal challenges such as climate change, health, and nutrition.
New forms of industrial cooperation are emerging between chemicals and other industries, which help keep manufacturing jobs in Europe. An example is the cooperation between the agricultural sector and the chemicals industry in the production of bioplastics. The chemicals industry is also a strong driver of resource and energy efficiency.