The Council (Competitiveness) took stock of the serious challenges faced currently by the European Steel industry.
The EU steel sector suffers from major global overcapacity in production, which pushes down prices and encourages trade distorting behaviour from competing regions. High energy costs are eroding margins. And the resulting closure of steel plants is costing thousands of jobs.
The Council agreed on the gravity of the situation as well as on the need to take concrete actions that will help ensure the long-term viability of a modern European steel sector.
The Council also considered that these measures should be part of a comprehensive approach aiming at creating competitive framework conditions for EU industry as a whole, including through a predictable and consistent regulatory environment as well as measures to stimulate innovation, since many of the issues faced by the steel sector are shared by other energy intensive industries.
Taking into account the results of the Council discussion, the Presidency considers that the following concrete actions should be taken as a matter of priority:
- To intensify or launch discussions involving all important steel producers in the context of the OECD Steel Committee and through the Commission's bilateral steel dialogues with third countries like China, Russia, Belarus, Turkey and India.
- To make full and timely use of the full range of EU trade policy instruments to ensure a global level playing field and to address restrictive measures in third countries in particular as regards the steel sector.
- To take a constructive approach when it comes to the modernisation of Trade Defense Instruments that further streamline and expedite their operation, increase transparency, predictability, effectiveness and enforcement.
- To further improve access for the EU steel industry to third markets, including through public procurement, through bilateral and multilateral negotiations and implementation.
- To make full use of the Investment Plan for Europe to upgrade and modernise the steel sector through use of the European Investment Advisory Hub and the European Fund for Strategic Investments.
- To make best use of the possibilities given under the revised State Aid rules to support Energy Intensive Industries in R&D&I, training, environment, employment and ETS costs.
- To improve the competitiveness of sectors most at risk of carbon leakage, including the steel industry, by considering, as part of the reform of the European emissions trading system (“EU ETS”):
- a more focused mechanism for free allocation of allowances, for example through a tiered approach;
- elements to minimise the need for a cross-sectoral correction factor by the end of ETS phase IV, while creating the right incentives for industrial innovation and enhancing the possibility to increase production levels, in line with the conclusions of the October 2014 European Council.
- To support the swift implementation of the European Energy Union to ensure access to secure, affordable and climate-friendly energy.
- To fully exploit the possibilities under the forthcoming Communication on the Circular Economy.
- To make best use of the available EU instruments and funding, such as the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund and the European Social Fund, for upskilling workers and facilitate their re-integration into the labour market in case of mass redundancies in any industrial sector, including the steel industry.
To follow up on this extraordinary meeting of the Competitiveness Council, it has been agreed to call for a special High Level stakeholders' conference, involving the social partners, to review the current situation and consider policy actions, in the context of the ongoing work of the High Level Group on Energy Intensive Industries.
The implementation of the 2013 European Steel Action Plan should be assessed in the context of that meeting.