European Union steel industryThe history of industrial steel production in Europe dates back as early as the 19th century in some European countries, such as the United Kingdom and Germany. Like many other regions, crude steel production was closely linked to the production of coal. One of Europe’s largest producers of steel, Italy, was a world pioneer in the development of electric furnaces in the 20th century.
The steel industry employed over 326,400 people in the European Union in 2020, with Germany boasting the largest workforce at over 83,200 employees. This was over double the steel industry employment of Italy, which was second in the ranking. Germany was also the leading exporter of semi-finished and finished steel products in the EU over the past decade, with exports volumes reaching around 24 million metric tons. Turkey, with its important automotive manufacturing sector, was the leading importer of European steel in 2020. Hot rolled wide strip and hot dipped steel products were the most popular in the industry, each averaging outputs of 263,000 and 254,000 metric tons per month.
COVID-19 and broader international market impactCheaper steel production in other countries has undercut the European steel industry. Since Europe has maintained a high steel demand, the European Union is among the leading importers of steel products in the world. Increased competition led to the collapse of many European steel producers in the 1950s, and ThyssenKrupp had to sell its elevator unit in 2020. The oil crisis of 1973 and the 1980s recession led to a further decline in the European steel industry. At the beginning of 2020, the COVID-19 crisis led to a decline in steel production worldwide. Production of hot rolled flat steel, the most popular finished steel product in Europe in terms of production output, dipped by some 11.5 percent between 2019 and 2020, due to the impact the COVID-19 pandemic had on the manufacturing industry and metal demand.
The effects of the pandemic directly impacted the European steel companies. ArcelorMittal, market leader, recorded a drop of almost a quarter its 2019 revenue in 2020, sales dipping to just over 53 billion U.S. dollars. The annual revenue of Voestalpine, sixth in the ranking for leading industrial metals companies in Europe, also fell by 11.4 percent between the 2019/20 and 2020/21 financial years.