Eurofer welcomes the ‘Action Plan for a competitive and sustainable steel industry in Europe’ published 11 May by the European Commission.

Amongst other things, the Action Plan takes a comprehensive view of energy and energy-efficiency issues and states creating a ‘regulatory environment conducive to sustainable growth’ in this area as one of its central goals. Measures suggested include guidance on long-term electricity contracts, which could reduce energy costs for the steel industry, and an analysis of the impact of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme on electricity prices. Other levies and taxes boosting electricity cost will also be looked into, and Member States are invited to consider reduction of renewable and network levies for energy-intensive industries (EII) or to exempt EII from these altogether. “These are positive signals”, says Eurofer Director General, Gordon Moffat.

On climate policies post-2020 the Action Plan highlights the need to find a technological and economic basis for the EU target of reducing CO2 emissions by 80 to 95% by 2050. “Independent studies from Boston Consulting Group and from the Joint Research Centre, a part of DG Research, have demonstrated clearly that the steel industry can only reduce its emissions by a further 15% by 2050. “Present technology has reached its limits,” Gordon Moffat commented.

Trade and innovation

With 40% of global industrial raw material export restrictions pertaining to various steelmaking raw materials and 65% of global steel trade affected by protectionist measures, trade policies also play a prominent role in the Action Plan. New short time measures include the introduction of coking coal into the Commission’s list of critical raw materials which are subject to a higher risk of supply interruption, as well as scrap market monitoring. “Scrap is an important raw material for steel production. What gives rise to concerns here is the fact that Europe has become the second largest scrap exporter in the world while at the same time there are more than 20 countries elsewhere in the world that impose export restrictions on their own scrap production”, said Gordon Moffat.

Furthermore, the Commission wants to support innovation in the steel industry, for instance in the framework of EU Horizon 2020 programme. Research and development (R&D), demonstration and pilot projects for cleaner, more resource and energy-efficient technologies are focused on. Also, the Commission will concentrate financial support more on the up-scaling and piloting phase of new technologies instead of supporting only the R&D phase.

The Commission also invites Member States to earmark funds for specific R&D projects in the steel sector and the European Investment Bank to consider long-term financing applications for steel projects undertaken to ensure compliance of the industry’s installations with the EU Industrial Emissions Directive.

Employment and legislation

With respect to employment, the European steel industry has to manage both the social challenges of on-going restructuring and the need to recruit young and creative talent. The Commission intends to mobilise various policy instruments such as the European Social Fund and the European Globalisation Fund to alleviate the social cost of adjustment. At the same time, it will promote the employment of young people in the sector, encourage the creation of a European Skills Council for the steel industry and support Sector Skills Alliances through its Erasmus for All programme.

The Commission will also look into potential competitive benefits of European Standards, for instance on sustainable production. It cites ‘SustSteel’, the Eurofer certification scheme for sustainable steel construction products, as a positive example for such an approach.

The ‘Action Plan for a competitive and sustainable steel industry in Europe’ takes up recommendations of the High level Roundtable (HLR) on the Future of the European Steel Industry. Initiated by Antonio Tajani, Commissioner for Industry and Entrepreneurship with support from László Andor, Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, the HLR brought together representatives of the governments of 13 member states, Commission Directorates-General, Executive Board Members and Chief Executive Officers of Eurofer member companies as well as representatives from trade unions. The Commission proposes to institutionalise a High-Level Group on steel, which would meet once a year to provide a European platform for dialogue and exchange of best practice.