Profiles of Member Countries
11 Oct 2013


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The EU chemicals sector

In 2012, the EU chemical industry posted sales of €558 billion, which is nearly one-fifth of world chemicals sales in value terms. The European Union was the leading exporter and importer of chemicals in the world, accounting for 38 per cent of global trade (including intra-EU trade).

Germany remains the largest chemicals producer in Europe, followed by France, Italy and the Netherlands. Together, these four countries generated 62.6% of EU chemicals sales in 2012. The share rises to 87.7% when including the United Kingdom, Spain, Belgium and Poland. The other 19 EU countries generated 12.3% of EU chemicals sales, nearly half of which was attributed to four EU countries –Austria, Sweden, Czech Republic and Finland. 

Output from the EU chemical industry covers three wide ranges of products: base chemicals (61.6% of total sales in 2012), speciality chemicals (25.4%) and consumer chemicals (11.5%). 

The EU chemicals sector employs a total staff of about 1.19 million. From 2002 to 2012, employment in the industry has decreased by an average annual rate of 1.7%. In 2011, the fuel and power consumption of the European chemical industry, including pharmaceuticals, amounted to 55.6 million tonnes of oil equivalent (TOE). Between 1990 and 2011, production in the EU chemical industry, including pharmaceuticals, rose by 61 per cent, while total energy consumption and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions fell by 17 per cent and 53 per cent respectively during the past years 1990 to 2011. 

A very diverse portfolio of chemistry-based industrial activities has developed over the past two centuries in Belgium. Today, the Belgian chemicals sector has one of the highest degrees of specialisation in the world. The development of the port area of Antwerp since the 1960s has been of vital importance for the base chemical industry. The pharmaceutical industry, meanwhile, has expanded rapidly during the past 20 years, both in Flanders and Wallonia.

The chemicals, plastics and life sciences sector is one of the most important industries in Belgium. In 2010, the sector represented 90,000 direct and over 150,000 indirect jobs, a total turnover of €52 billion, a positive trade balance of €25 billion, and €2.43 billion in R&D investment. The base chemicals industry, plastic converters and the pharmaceutical industry are the main subsectors and represent more than three-quarters of the total employment of the sector. The sector is highly export-oriented. In 2007, exports amounted to €99.2 billion (including transit), generating a positive trade balance of more than 18 billion EUR.

Since 1990, the total production of Belgium's chemical and life sciences industry has risen by 65%, while energy consumption only increased by 21%. GHG emissions per tonne of product (specific emissions) have decreased by 66% since 1990.

See Wallonia's full profile here.

See Flanders' full profile here.

The chemicals sector is the one of the leading manufacturing sectors in Bulgaria. During the transition period and today, the chemicals sector is one of the main manufacturing exporters, contributing to a better trade balance for the country and supplying the agriculture sector with fertilisers and other agrochemicals. Productivity in the base chemicals sector is the highest in the country.

See Bulgaria's full profile here.

The chemical industry is the third biggest industrial sector in the Czech Republic. The industry is concentrated in large production complexes, preferably located near their sources. Bohemia is home to the Elbe chemical region, and Moravia houses the Moravian chemical region. As regards crude oil processing, the proximity of the oil pipeline (Litvínov, Kralupy nad Vltavou) is very important.

The most important product groups are base chemicals (64% of total revenues) and pharmaceuticals (17%). The shares of the other five sectors are lower: chemical specialities and fibres (9%), cleaning agents and cosmetics (5%), painting materials (4%), and pesticides and agrochemicals (1%).

See Czech Republic's full profile here.

The chemical industry is Finland's third largest industrial sector in terms of gross value of production. In 2010, gross value of production totalled €17.3 billion, accounting for 17% of total industrial output. Chemical industry value-added amounted to €4.2 billion in the same period, representing 16% of total Finnish industrial value-added.

Principal product groups include pulp and paper industry chemicals, petroleum products, fuels and lubricants, plastics, packaging and precision plastics, paints, plastic piping systems as well as damp-proofing and thermal insulation materials.

In 2011, electricity consumption and the consumption of other forms of energy by the companies committed to the Responsible Care programme amounted to 5.9 TWh and 20.6 TWh. In total, 67 of companies committed to the Responsible Care programme or sites of these companies joined the new Energy Efficiency Agreements during 2011. The majority of these companies were SMEs.

See Finland's full profile here.

The chemical industry in Germany is the third largest industrial sector in Germany. The key sectors are specialties (32%), pharmaceuticals (27%), polymers (26%) and petrochemicals (23%).

The energy demand of the chemical industry in Germany is 45 million MWh (around 7.5% of energy demand in Germany) and gas demand 71 million MWh (around 12% of the gas demand). The implementation of the energy turnaround is still at its beginning. The energy concept of 2010 and further deliberations of the German federal government aim for energy management systems (EMS) for continuing the tax cap. The introduction of EMS is planned to be a mandatory prerequisite for maintaining the tax cap from 2013.

See Germany's full profile here.

The chemicals industry is one of the strongest sectors of the Greek processing industry. Its turnover in 2009 amounted to €995 million, a decrease of 15.7% compared to 2008, due to the economic crisis. The decline in demand for chemicals results from declining production in other industries. SMEs – over 90% of Greek chemical companies – have been the most affected by the crisis.

Chemical businesses in Greece are very supportive of efforts to increase energy efficiency, due to the significant impact of energy on reducing production costs and increasing competitiveness. The sector has improved its energy efficiency over the past 10 years and will continue these efforts.

See Greece's full profile here.

The production value generated by the chemical industry in Italy – made up of about 2,800 enterprises – is worth €53.4 billion. The sector, including pharmaceuticals, accounts for around 8% of the total turnover of the Italian manufacturing sector. The sector employs about 114,500 people.

Energy costs represent around 10% of the total production value generated by the chemicals sector. The electricity consumed by the chemical industry (20,864 GWh) accounts for 17.2% of the overall industrial electricity consumption (121,650 GWh).

SMEs account for 39% of the total production value and 62.8% of employment in the Italian chemicals sector (in the EU as a whole, 41.6%).

See Italy's full profile here.

The turnover of the Dutch chemical industry has almost returned to pre-recession levels, following the sharp decline in 2009. In 2010, the turnover was €47 billion – an increase of 25% compared to 2009. This increase was partly due to higher sales prices. The sector (including the rubber and plastics industry) continued to make a major contribution to the Dutch Gross Domestic Product (almost 3%). More than half of the sales of the chemical industry concerned base chemicals.

Approximately three-quarters of the chemical products manufactured in the Netherlands are exported. Around 80% of this is to countries within Europe. Exports in 2010 were around €71 billion, representing more than 19% of all Dutch goods exports.

By focusing on saving energy, the chemical industry, despite significant growth, has only shown a minor increase in energy consumption. The companies under the LTA-3 (Long-Term Agreements 3) consumed 8% less energy in 2009 compared to 2005 and implemented 147 measures improve process efficiency (savings of 320 TJ) and 61 measures in the supply chain (savings of 174 TJ).

For more information, please download these files:

Sectorrapport 2012 - Chemische industrie: (MEE) - (MJA)

Sectorrapport 2013 - Chemische industrie: (MEE) - (MJA)

See The Netherlands' full profile here.

In 2011, the financial performance of chemical companies significantly improved, by a total of 15.7%. The net financial result of the chemical industry amounted to PLN 2,386.1 million, i.e. 77.7% more than in the previous year.

The three biggest subsectors are basic chemicals (52%), cosmetics and household products (17%), and pharmaceuticals (17%). The production structure is considered the main drawback of the Polish chemical industry. As a result of the lack of investment in modern plants, the industry produces insufficient basic chemicals (olefins, aromatics) and plastics. Ethylene production is much lower than in other countries with similar macroeconomic indicators. As a result, polymers production and plastic processing are also underdeveloped.

See Poland's full profile here.

The chemicals sector in Sweden is represented by approximately 900 companies (0.4% of total employment in the manufacturing industry) employing 32,000 persons. The turnover 2009 amounted to €16,890 million (10.3%) and investments amounted to €792 million (13%). Exports amounted to €14,855 million (14%) in 2009, mainly in pharmaceuticals and basic chemicals.

The energy-intensive part of the Swedish chemicals and pharmaceuticals industry is an active partner in the Swedish programme for energy efficiency in the energy intensive industry (PFE). Energy cost and efficiency are key competiveness factors in a global industry.

See Sweden's full profile here.

France is a Republic, a unitary semi-presidential republic, governed by both a President and Parliament. Most of France's territory and population are located in Western Europe but it also comprises several overseas regions and territories around the world. The capital is Paris, the official language is French and the currency the Euro. The national motto is "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity". The national flag comprises three vertical stripes in blue, white and red respectively. The national anthem is called the Marseillaise. France's guiding principle is government of the people, by the people and for the people.

See France's full profile here.

Spain is a monarchy whose form of government is a parliamentary democracy organized territorially through 17 autonomous communities and 2 autonomous cities, what is known as the State of Autonomous Communities. Both groups are the highest or first-order administrative division in the country. Autonomous communities are integrated by provinces, of which there are 50 in total, and in turn, provinces are integrated by municipalities. Spain became a member of the European Union (EU) in 1986.

See Spain's full profile here.

The chemicals sector is the UK's number one manufacturing exporter, contributing £70 million of added value every single working day to the UK's gross domestic product and the trade balance is a positive £30 million every day. The sector is very broad, and output categories vary enormously from speciality chemicals to bulk commodities.

Chemical and pharmaceutical businesses in the UK are very supportive of efforts to increase energy efficiency. The sector has improved its energy efficiency by 35% over the past two decades and will continue to strive for greater energy efficiency because energy cost and efficiency are key competiveness factors in a global industry.

See The UK's full profile here.

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