Chemistry, “a symbolic sector of European industrial decline”

VSt is a rare move: the French Association of Private Enterprises is entering the political arena two months before the European elections. In an open letter published Monday April 15, this pressure group of the one hundred and seventeen largest listed French companies warns, without naming them, against the programs of the National Rally, Reconquest! and the radical left, which would expose Europe to “ a risk of fragmentation » at the worst time in its history. She managed to “a tipping point”say the big bosses, who express “a deep attachment” to everything that makes up the European Union, in particular “an unparalleled political construction”.

Without one “competitive burst” from 2024, it will undergo “an irreversible dropout” towards Asia and North America. It has already started: investment projects are concentrated at 54% in the first zone and 28% in the second, leaving only 10% for Europe. This surge requires better mobilization of savings, securing supply chains, a European offer for ecological and digital transitions, “more agility and efficiency” Community institutions and procedures.

The chemical sector is the perfect illustration of the threat. “The global market is recovering, but European chemicals are showing a further decline and are clearly in decline compared to other industrial sectors”, alarms France Chimie in its 2023 report, presented Tuesday April 16 at its general meeting. France is doing better than Germany thanks to perfumes and cosmetics, while its basic chemicals (petrochemicals, mineral chemicals, etc.) are declining.

No prospect of a rebound

Low demand, electricity and gas prices higher than those in Asia and the United States, aggressive investments of China creating overcapacity, aid from Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, all of these elements have caused the utilization rate of French sites to drop to 74%. With no prospect of a rebound in 2024, where capital will go to maintenance operations and adaptation to standards, not to growth investments.

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In mid-February, more than sixty bosses of European industry chose Antwerp and the Belgian site of the German BASF, the world number one in chemicals, to receive the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, who promises to boost the competitiveness of the industry if she is re-elected for a second term. A highly symbolic site: chemicals are used in the composition of many goods where Europe is engaged in a merciless battle against China.

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