The leather industry in the EU consists of approximately 3,000 tanneries employing some 50,000 people. It includes small and medium-sized tanneries in nearly all European countries, although the majority are concentrated in southern Europe. Certain regions and municipalities within the EU member states contain concentrated areas of tanneries, where local residents depend on the sector.

The small size of tanneries, their ownership structure and their geographical distribution often means that less money is invested in research and development (R&D), cleaner technologies and modern management strategies.

Research needs

The European leather industry has identified research priorities for the future through the Tannet network (described later).

In Europe, top environmental performance and sustainable development constitutes a major sociological concern among all sectors of the economy. Any industry falling short of high ecological standards will not survive in the long term.

Many developments have already improved the environmental performance of leather production processes, but even more will take place focusing on improved production technologies for ‘greening’ tanning operations and reducing their impact on the environment to a minimum.

R&D is the key factor in discovering the technologies capable of anticipating problems, reducing current errors and contributing to the solution of possible environmental challenges. These new, cleaner technologies will be the result of a continuing review process of leather producing operations.

Certain cleaner process technologies and end-of-pipe systems are already widely used by the sector; others just apply to a specific process, type of site, a given capacity or given natural conditions.

The purpose of the ‘Research Priorities for the European leather industry’ list is to highlight the specific research concerns which need to be addressed in the various fields by the European leather research community.

The authors of the list have voluntarily refrained from pinpointing particular techniques or scientific approaches which, today, may be appealing or under investigation, to avoid reducing researchers’ capacity for innovation. This should ensure that all possible opportunities for improving the environmental performance of tanning processes are explored.


* Reduction and monitoring of non-ionic polyethoxylated (NPEO) surfactants in wastewater from degreasing operations

* Efficient management of water in tanneries in order to reduce water consumption

* Advanced wastewater treatment units leading to open or closed-loop recycling of water

* Reduction/treatment of sludge from tannery effluent treatment

* Small and cost-effective treatment plants for specific tannery effluents

* Reduction of the salt-discharge from tanneries (both chlorides and sulfates are priority substances)

* Assessment of the long term environmental impact of tannery contaminated sites on, eg, groundwater

* Development of remedial technologies for tannery contaminated sites

Solid waste

* Development of new and innovative technologies for the prevention of solid waste

* Valorisation of byproducts from leather manufacturing by, eg, biotechnology

* Thermal treatment of leather waste and sludge

Air pollution

* Reduction of VOC emissions from finishing operations

* Reduction of odour emissions from tanneries and treatment plants


* Integrated approaches to an environmentally sustainable leather production

* Tools to evaluate the impact of relocating tanneries from city centres to industrial parks

* Tools to assess and compare the environmental impact from different processes

* Improved energy efficiency in tanneries

* Quality of product towards consumer related interests

* Traceability of hides

Research possibilities

A substantial part of the research in Europe today is carried out as part of the European Commission’s research programmes. These are administrated by the research directorate and the aim of the research is:

* to develop the European Union’s policy in the field of research and technological development and, thereby, contribute to the international competitiveness of the European industry

* to coordinate European research activities with those carried out at the level of member states

* to support the Union’s policies in other fields such as environment, health, energy and regional development etc

* to promote a better understanding of the role of science in modern societies and stimulate a public debate about research related issues at a European level

The main instrument for implementing this policy is the multi-annual Framework Programme, which helps to organise and finance cooperation between universities, research centres and industries – including small and medium-sized enterprises.

The current Fifth Framework Programme (FP5) covers the period 1998-2002 and has a total budget of close to Euro15 billion (US$13.7 billion). FP5 sets out the priorities for the European Union’s research, technological development and demonstration (RTD) activities for the period 1998-2002.

FP5 will soon be finished and some programmes or key actions have already been closed for new proposals. The Framework Programmes are highly relevant to the European leather industry. This can be illustrated by the fact that nearly 100 projects for the leather industry have already been carried out in the Fourth and Fifth Framework Programmes.

Preparations for the new Framework Programme have started and the first proposal was presented by the research commissioner Philippe Busquin in February 2001. The new research Framework Programme will be implemented during a four year period (2002-2006). The proposed budget is Euro17.5 billion (US$16 billion), representing a 17% increase in funding.

This will be followed by substantial discussion and negotiation, but already the first cornerstones of the programme can be identified.

The first proposal for the Sixth Framework Programme has selected seven thematic areas where EU actions can add the greatest possible value. These areas are:

* Genomics and biotechnology for health

* Information society technologies (relevant to leather)

* Nanotechnologies, intelligent materials, new production methods (relevant to leather)

* Food safety and health risks

* Sustainable developments and global change (for leather)

* Citizens and governance in European society (relevant to the leather industry)

To ensure sufficient focus on these priority thematic areas, EU action will be implemented through three major instruments. These are:

1) Integrating European research

* Networks of excellence

* Integrated projects

* EU participation in research programmes of the member states

* Anticipation of the EU’s scientific and technological needs, including specific research activities for SMEs and specific international activities

2) Structuring the European research area

* Research and innovation

* Human resources and research mobility

* Research infrastructures

* Science/society issues

3) Strengthening the foundations of the European research area

* Coordination between national and European research programmes

The majority of the European funding (around 78%) will be allocated to ‘Integrating European Research’ and especially the integrated projects.

There are several positive and interesting aspects for the European leather industry in relation to the new Framework Programme:

1) Integrated projects. It is anticipated that only bigger integrated projects, above the Euro10 million (US$9.2 million) mark, will be the preferred route for the Commission’s support. Europe’s tanneries are SMEs and in the last two EU Framework Programmes, the leather industry has hardly put up projects worth one or two dozen’s of million euros in total. However, the leather industry has now developed the necessary tools through the Tannet network to present proposals for integrated projects. It is expected that the Tannet network will initiate integrated projects incorporating different research projects and involving all stakeholders in joint projects. The integrated projects will have a high degree of flexibility and gather a critical mass of human resources to carry out the research.

2) Specific research activities for SMEs. These actions, which may be carried out in the entire field of science and technology, will take the form of:

* Cooperative Research Projects (CRAFT projects) which

will continue in the Sixth Framework Programme and are an excellent tool for SMEs in the leather sector. These include research activities carried out by research centres for a number of SMEs in different European countries on themes of common interest, or by high-tech SMEs in collaboration with research centres and universities.

* Collective Research Activities are a new initiative. They include research activities carried out by technical research centres for industrial associations or industry groupings in entire sectors of industry dominated by SMEs at the European level (such as the leather industry). Collective research activities could play an important role in the future.

The European leather industry and research institutes have been invited by Professor Busquin (European Commissioner of Research) to comment on the first proposal for a new Framework Programme. Cotance (Confederation of National Associations of Tanners and Dressers in the European Community), Geric (partnership formed by all European leather research and training centres) and Tannet (European Network for the Leather Industry) have prepared a document for the European Commission on this subject.

Political support for the leather industry

The European Commission and the European Parliament have clearly indicated that they consider the leather industry to be an important sector in the EU and that views of the leather industry are important. One example is a meeting at the European Parliamentary forum for the textile, clothing and leather sector (TCL) organised by Concepció Ferrer from the European Parliament on May 30, 2001.

The main goal of the forum is to ensure that specific interests and problems are sufficiently taken into account at the policy and decision making levels within the institutional framework of the European communities.

At the meeting, Busquin presented the possibilities offered by the Sixth Framework Programme on R&D among the TCL-sector and described the ideas behind the new Framework Programme. He explained the structure of the programme and highlighted the changes from previous EU R&D programmes.

Professor Busquin responded to an intervention by the Geric president Stefan Rydin by expressing his satisfaction with the Tannet network and the proactive approach made by the leather industry. He also indicated that he would welcome the same approach by other industrial sectors.

Another example of the high level political interest and support for the leather industry is the outcome of a seminar which took place on July 13, 2001, in Brussels. Erkki Liikanen, European Commissioner for Enterprise and Information, presented a draft EU report on the promotion of competitiveness and employment in the European leather/tanning industry. The main idea of the seminar was to provide input to the draft report and, thereby, to the development of a strategy for the European leather sector.

The seminar was divided into three sessions, which were positioning the sector in the European and global economies (including improving access to markets and raw materials), increasing employment and improving training and finally improving access to research and development, fostering innovation and protecting the environment. Liikanen expressed his support for the European leather industry and added that he would work for a free market in leather trade.

Tannet – A European initiative to stimulate research

The European leather industry is now preparing itself for the Sixth Framework Programme in order to receive a substantial part of the funding from the EU programme for leather research. One of the initiatives is the network Tannet.

The Danish Technological Institute, in cooperation with Cotance, started the Tannet initiative in April 1998 and received financial support from the EU Environment and Climate Programme. The first phase lasted for 26 months and concentrated on environmental issues.

The follow-up of Tannet 1 started in July 2000 and the main objective of the second initiative is to increase the participation of tanneries in the EU research & development programmes. The second Tannet project receives financial support from the EU programme ‘Promotion of Innovation and Encouragement of SME Participation’.

Today, the Tannet network has more than 250 members. A list of research priorities has been developed based on input from members and from the workshops. The list of research priorities is recognised and used by the European Commission in the selection of new research projects. Furthermore, the Tannet network has already initiated more than 15 proposals to the EU R&D programmes in 2001.

Tannet is also disseminating information about ongoing research projects both at European and national levels to its member by newsletters, seminars, leaflets and reports. Furthermore, the Tannet network has a web page administrated by Cotance (

Tannet will also play an important role in the future and the following activities will be carried out:

* Input to EU research policies and programmes

* Initiate R&D for the leather industry at a European level

* Dissemination of relevant information to tanneries


The possibilities for obtaining financial support for leather research are available through the Framework Programmes for Research and Technological Development by the European Commission, and the European leather industry is prepared to use the available possibilities.