Europe’s steel industry employs hundreds of thousands of skilled steelworkers and provides the essential foundation for the continent’s manufacturing sector. There’s no doubt the industry is facing huge challenges, with COVID-19 decimating order books and China’s state-subsidised overcapacity depressing prices, but Europe needs its steel industry as much now as ever.
Over the coming months and years steel will be vital to efforts to rebuild Europe’s pandemic-battered economies and a green European steel industry is fundamental to achieving our climate change objectives. A bright and sustainable future for European steelmaking is possible – but to enable us to grasp these opportunities our governments must deliver the right framework of support including much needed measures to boost steel demand.
This is why today’s European Steel Action Day organised by industriALL Europe (the European trade union federation for steelworkers) is so important. A day to send a clear and coordinated message that urgent action is required to safeguard steel jobs so the industry can survive and then thrive playing a central role in a post-pandemic recovery.
It’s often been said while the UK is leaving the EU we are not leaving Europe, and that’s especially true for our steel sector. With more than 70% of UK steel exports going into the EU, and the UK similarly important to EU producers, those markets and that relationship will continue to be crucial regardless of Brexit. Moreover Brexit will not change the fact the UK’s largest steelmakers will continue to own operations in the EU, and that UK and EU steelworkers will continue to collaborate across borders jointly holding those companies to account.
There will be many challenges ahead but European unions must work in partnership to ensure that Europe’s steelworkers do not pay the price of any fall-out from Brexit. For both UK and EU steelworkers establishing fair and friction-free trading arrangements is essential to securing jobs and is currently a top priority. Time is running out to secure a trade agreement and everything must be done to avoid the introduction of self-defeating tariffs.
Key to this is finding an urgent resolution to the biggest threat to UK-EU trade, which is the continued uncertainty about what the EU Steel Safeguard Measures mean for steel exports from the 1st of January. As it stands the Steel Safeguard Measures mean that steel exports will become subject to a 25% tariff, which would be devastating for both UK and EU producers and threaten thousands of jobs on both sides of the channel. To prevent this from happening we are calling on the UK Government and the EU to urgently agree a mutual exemption from Steel Safeguard Measures. To help deliver this outcome we are working closely with our trade union partners across Europe, lobbying the decision makers and deploying our collective influence to get this resolved.
Looking beyond Brexit the big strategic challenges the European steel industry must confront will be shared challenges common to the UK and the EU. There can be no doubt that making progress with China will only be possible though building a strong international consensus that action must be taken to make them play by the rules. Similarly transitioning to low-carbon steelmaking will require enormous investment in currently unproven technologies and a herculean research and development effort right across Europe. Finding answers to these questions is going to be a shared endeavour that will require a coordinated approach, with European steelworkers and industry pushing in the same direction to the same ends.
These are difficult times but we know that Europe needs its steel, just as Britain needs its steel. We must make that case, and win that argument, to secure the change and investment we need to safeguard our priceless industry for generations to come. Community is proud to support this European Steel Action day and stand alongside steelworkers from across Europe demanding decisive action to safeguard the sector and protect jobs.
Alasdair McDiarmid is Operations Director at Community.
Community is the union for steelworkers, you can join us here.
Read Roy Rickhuss explain more about why the Britain needs its steel industry here.