Interview: “The Covid-19 pandemic has put everything upside down”
You took over as CEPE Managing Director in March 2020. How was your first year in office?
Christel Davidson: The first year has been nothing like I would have expected. Clearly, the Covid-19 pandemic has put everything upside down. My immediate challenges were to get more acquainted with the sector and CEPE members in particular, while at the same time maintaining team cohesion and the daily activities of the association such as the holding of meetings of the working groups. Our digital work culminated in the first ever-online held CEPE annual conference with speakers from several different EU countries and presentations from the European Commission.
The Von der Leyen Commission had presented the EU Green Deal by the end of 2019 and key dossiers were further adopted in my first year: the most relevant for the sector being the Circular Economy Action Plan and the Chemical Strategy for Sustainability. They further demonstrate the ambition of Europe to become climate neutral by 2050 and to have products available in the single market that are safe and sustainable by design. These initiatives and the subsequent actions stemming from these initiatives force us to priorities and work on where we can make an impact. We must not underestimate the power of the initiatives to transform the existing chemical legislation to a situation that will require more data, more scrutiny and the need for more sustainable products.
To react in an adequate manner now and in the years to come, we have formed the CEPE EU Green Deal Task Force. This is where we will find the right approach to the green EU agenda. Therefore, the first year, as for so many, has been a challenging but yet rewarding year.
How would you describe the current state of the European paints and coatings industry?
Davidson: The state of the coatings industry is, like every other sector of the economy, impacted by the pandemic. For instance, at the beginning of the pandemic, the closing of the borders caused interruptions in our supply chains while this year trade we are experiencing the consequences of the departure of the UK from the European Union with some issues not yet properly resolved.
Nevertheless, the impact of the pandemic seems to have been less negative than originally feared. On the positive side, the deco sector “boomed” in several countries especially in those countries where DIY-stores remained opened. The sector of the artists colours also encountered very good results at the start of the pandemic. On the negative side, the industrial sector, in particular the vehicle refinishing sector, saw sales decline. The printing ink sales volumes in Europe were lower than in 2019, with publication inks bearing the brunt of the decline. Half of the decrease came in Q2 2020, the quarter most badly affected by the Covid-19 restrictions put in place by European governments.
Thus, I describe the current state as a mixed picture.
What are your plans and expectations for the upcoming twelve months?
Davidson: Personally, fewer cases of Covid-19 and more vaccinations. I hope that we will gradually revert to a more “normal” situation. This will help our members and their workers to focus on what they do best: manufacturing quality coatings. I would expect further recovery of the overall economy which should spur additional sales for our sector.
As Managing Director of our trade association, I am concerned with the number of regulatory initiatives from the beforementioned strategies. In the months and years ahead, we can expect somewhat of an avalanche of new proposals from the European Commission which will put the overall chemical industry, including the coatings industry, under pressure. Business leaders should consider setting up teams that translate the EU Green Deal ideas to company level to identify possibilities to become more sustainable but also to demonstrate examples where implementation achieves unnecessary distortion. As CEPE, we will take part in an exercise to identify the overall impact on our industry. In light of this ambitious green EU agenda, we will need to demonstrate that coatings are part of the solution to establish a circular economy in Europe and to become more sustainable.