Landscape of the European Chemical Industry 2017

Landscape of the European Chemical Industry 2017




52 billion €

Number of companies


Direct employees


National contact

Federazione Nazionale dell’ Industria Chimica (Federchimica)

Claudio Benedetti

Director General


Chemical industry snapshot

An important industry providing high qualified jobs

The chemical industry in Italy had 2015 sales of €52 billion, generated by 2,800 companies. Together they achieved 6% of Italy’s manufacturing sales, making chemicals the country’s sixth-largest manufacturing sector. It employed about 107,000 high qualified workers but the sector generated an even greater number of indirect jobs, about twice than through direct employment.

Strong and growing specialization in downstream chemicals

There is a significant presence in basic chemicals, but specialties and consumer chemicals account for 58% of total production value, a higher share in respect to European chemical industry average.

A science-based industry operating in partnership with Italian Districts

Italian chemical industry is a science-based industry that support the competitiveness of other industrial sectors through its innovative products and solutions, created with strong effort in R&D activity.


Being a country with a strong industrial basis, Italy represents a large market for chemicals accounting for about 60 billion Euros. In particular, there are about 150 Industrial Districts in Italy which are known around the world for their high quality and innovative products: their success very often relies on Italian chemical sophisticated intermediate products responding to specific requirement.

An increasing international attitude

Italian chemical companies are taking advantage of globalization by providing their international customers the same solutions developed for their domestic costumers: high innovation, customization, flexibility, just-in-time and fulfilment to very specific and tailor-made requirements, even in small quantities of products.


Exports to turnover ratio has reached 52% and has increased by 15 percentage points in the last 10 years.


Not only large firms, but also SMEs are strongly oriented to international markets.

How are we doing?

A balanced industry structure

Chemical industry in Italy is characterized by the well balanced presence of three different actors, all of them playing a very important role: Italian SMEs (38% of total chemical production value), medium-large Italian groups (24%) and foreign capital companies (38%).

Lombardy: a real vocation for chemicals

Italian chemical industry is concentrated in Northern Italy (78% of chemicals employment) , close to downstream European markets and local customer companies.


In particular, Lombardy has Europe’s second-biggest chemicals cluster and is home to 31% of Italy’s chemical firms, 41% of jobs and 46% of chemicals turnover.


Chemical industry in Lombardy has different features from other European region with strong chemicals presence: production is not concentrated in a handful of highly integrated sites, but across a network of foreign multinationals, Italian medium and large groups and local SMEs, which account for 54% of chemicals employment, far above the European average.


In effect, Lombardy firms focus on chemical sub-sectors where the average size of firms is lower because scale economies are not so relevant and the key of success often consists in offering to customers tailor made products: detergents and cosmetics, specialty chemicals and active pharmaceutical ingredients.


These companies can benefit from the presence of major universities and research centres, able to develop research and put scientists to work on industry-oriented projects.


  • Emilia-Romagna accounts for 12% of chemical jobs employment and 13% of turnover;
  • Veneto has 10% of jobs and 7% of turnover;
  • Piedmont has 10% of jobs and 9% of turnover, with a growing specialisation in bio-based chemicals.

Preparing the future


  • Strong interaction with Industrial Districts, i.e. SMEs belonging to the traditional sectors of Made in Italy which are world trend setters, wide open to innovation and always ready to test and develop new products.
  • Talent: there is a big pool of able and motivated Italian chemists with particular skills in areas including fluorine chemicals, woven and non-woven polyester, polyurethanes, special polymers, leather chemicals, adhesives, pharmaceuticals active ingredients and cleaning additives.
  • Widespread research-based innovation: about 700 chemical companies in Italy, both national and foreign, draw upon their 5,600 R&D employees to innovate using research. In Europe, Italy is second only to German for number of companies engaged in R&D. Excluding micro-companies (with less than 10 employees), 42% of chemical companies in Italy have in-house R&D, more than twice the manufacturing average, because many SMEs also engage in R&D.
  • Remarkably constructive industrial relations: Italy’s chemical sector has a participatory and pragmatic industrial relations culture that supports renovation and often anticipates changes in regulation.The national collective labour contract aims to improve productivity also through organisational and working hours flexibility. It favours company-level bargaining and enables temporary agreements amending national rules. It also favours employability, training and youth employment. Chemical and pharmaceutical industry has been the first sector in Italy to adopt a supplementary pension and healthcare funds.

These strengths attract FDI in production and research.


  • Electricity costs are 30% above the European average, largely because of taxes and incentives for.
  • Logistics costs in Italy are higher than in other European.

Our contribution to European competitiveness

Backing sustainability and market-led innovation

Italy does not follow an explicit sectoral industrial policy.


The Ministry of Economic Development’s Fund for Sustainable Growth is available to support projects enhancing sustainable growth, including Green Chemistry.


The Ministry of Research supports clusters, including two dedicated to bio-based chemicals and for biotechnologies.