Restructuring steel

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Pivco City Bee flying in the 1990s

Some Western European industries began to consume less steel from the 1970s onwards in a quest for alternative materials that were lighter, cheaper and more durable.

The automobile industry, for example, has increasingly used aluminium and plastics to make lighter cars with lower energy consumption. This material substitution contributed to the severe steel crisis in Europe after 1974.

However, restructuring the industry by closing plants and merging companies proved to be highly politically sensitive. Influential industry organizations and trade unions lobbied national governments to continue subsidies for unprofitable plants, in order to prevent the closure of production facilities and avoid rising unemployment.

After 1977, the European Commission took a leading role in managing the restructuring of the European steel industry. During the 1980s and 1990s, the number of cross-border mergers and acquisitions increased, which led to the creation of Arcelor, a merger of companies from Luxembourg, France and Spain.

The new Asian dominance in steel became apparent in 2007, when the Indian companies Mittal Steel and Tata Steel acquired Arcelor and the British-Dutch Corus Group, respectively.

How to cite this page


Wolfram Kaiser, 'Restructuring steel', Inventing Europe,


  1. Kaiser, Wolfram and Johan Schot. Writing the Rules for Europe. Experts, Cartels, and International Organizations. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan 2014.
  2. World Steel Association:

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Building Europe on Steel

Europe invented steel and dominated its production, before becoming more marginal in an increasingly globalized sector. Workers, engineers, entrepreneurs, steel companies, and research institutes freely transferred technological know-how. However, low growth and the substitution of steel with other materials caused a severe structural crisis after 1974. This crisis saw reduced demand for steel and a shift of production to Asia.

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