Not since the late 1970s, when Europe adopted the so-called “Davignon rescue plan” for its steel, have we witnessed a more serious crisis in the European steel sector. This time it is caused by illegal foreign trade practices. Today, once again, European mills are idled. Plant continue to be shut down, the most recent case being in the UK. European workers are laid off. The EU has seen a 120% surge in Chinese imports since 2013, with 7 000 steelworkers having lost their jobs across Europe since autumn 2015.
The European steel industry employs, at over 500 production and processing sites located in 24 EU Member States, 320 000 highly skilled people. In addition, several million more jobs are directly and indirectly dependent on steel in the value chain and service sectors. The industry produces, on average, 170 million tonnes (Mt) of crude steel per year, of which about 60% through primary steelmaking (blast furnace route) and 40% through secondary steelmaking (steel scrap recycling in electric arc furnaces). According to EUROFER data, in 2015 the sector generated turnover of approximately EUR 166 billion, 1.3% of the EU’s GDP.
With production sites spread across the European Union, a healthy steel sector is vital to the EU’s stated goal of increasing the industry’s share of GDP to 20% by 2020.
Due to its outstanding properties in terms of strength, formability and versatility, steel is used in countless applications. Its importance will increase further as more high-grade materials will be required to green the economy. European steel forms the basis of various industrial value chains and is closely connected with diverse manufacturing sectors. The sector develops and manufactures thousands of innovative steel solutions. These provide the foundation for innovation, durability, CO2 reduction and energy savings in applications as varied and vital as automotive, construction, machinery, brown and white goods, low carbon and renewable energies.
New, innovative technologies benefit from the strong steel R&D network in Europe, which is – due to its diversity and cooperation with other sectors – unique in the world.
STEEL – THE BACKBONE OF THE CIRCULAR ECONOMY
Steel is durable, reusable, 100% recyclable and thus a permanent material - its anthropogenic stock will be a valuable future resource. All steel, even that created 150 years ago, can be recycled today and used in new products and applications. Global steel recovery rates for recycling are estimated at 85% for the construction sector, 85% for the automotive sector, 90% for machinery and 50% for electrical and domestic appliances.
The European steel industry is known for being among the most energy and resource efficient worldwide. The amount of energy required to produce a tonne of steel has fallen by 50% since 1960. New, lightweight steel is dramatically changing the market. In 1937, 83 000 tonnes of steel were needed to build the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Today, only half of that would be needed. The same spirit of innovation also helped to introduce steel in cars, which are now 39% lighter than 20 years ago, and to cut lifetime emissions by around 70%.
As well as an excellent product, the industry has always had a workforce that is willing and able to adapt and innovate. The innovation displayed by workers in the steel industry has allowed us to increase productivity from conditions where almost 5 000 workers were required for every million tonnes of steel produced to conditions today where often fewer than 1 000 workers are required to produce the same million tonnes.
And the story goes on. Nowadays, 97% of steel by-products, such as process gases (waste gases) and slags, are used as efficiently as possible and save natural resources. The same applies to residues generated during the steelmaking processes.
Instead of being flared, waste gases are recovered for heat and electricity production (replacing coal or natural gas). Instead of being landfilled, slags are used in the cement (in place of clinker) and construction (as artificial stone replacing natural aggregates) sectors. Both thereby replace millions of tonnes of primary raw materials and reduce CO2 emissions by millions of tonnes every year. Chemical compounds (sulphuric acid, sulphur, ammonium sulphate, BTX, tar, emulsions) are valuable raw materials for the chemicals industry.
Innovative European steel applications have the potential to reduce CO2 emissions in the EU by more than the emissions of the entire European steel industry. All in all, the European steel industry is determined to make a positive contribution to a more sustainable economy in Europe by providing innovative types of steel needed for low carbon solutions in a variety of sectors and by reducing its own CO2 emissions. Steel is one of Europe’s strategic assets and is therefore a key element of our national security.
 For example, the employment indicator for the German steel industry is 6.5.
 The Boston Consulting Group, Steel Institute VDEh (2013), Steel’s Contribution to a Low-Carbon Europe 2050. Technical and economic analysis of the EU27 steel sector’s CO2 abatement potential.