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CorporateWatch: THE SHAPERS: The firms moulding European life for the past 50 years

Loukas Christodoulou

Since 1957 mergers have created the present titans of the EU – building on the private companies, mutual associations and state-owned companies of the past. These megacorps now wield enormous influence over the daily life of Europeans, as well as extending their influence worldwide.

The biggest corporations in Europe, by revenue*

1) Shell Oil ($306.7 billion), British-Dutch. The world’s second biggest oil company, and in fact the world’s second biggest company by revenue, no surprise that this multinational is the EU’s biggest company.
1957: Shell was supplying the novel car and civilian aviation industries with fuel, pumping oil from 300 wells, mostly in the Gulf, and had just started selling petrol, prompting a huge advertising campaign and the beginning of the Shell brand as we know it.

2) BP ($267.6bn), British. Another world-spanning giant, London-based BP is among the six largest oil companies and cements Britain’s position as the base for Europe’s biggest petroleum companies.
1957: Recently renamed from ‘Anglo-Iranian Oil Company’, British Petroleum had just benefited from a 1953 MI6/CIA coup in Iran, which overthrew the democratic Prime Minister, guilty of nationalising BP’s assets. BP’s assets were essentially British state assets – the UK government was a major shareholder, and sometimes the biggest, due to the importance of Iranian oil for the British Empire’s fleet.

3) DaimlerChrysler ($186.1bn), German car manufacturer, produces the Mercedes-Benz and Chrysler brands of cars and SUVs, as well as being the world’s largest truck maker.
1957 As merely DaimlerBenz, but still one of the biggest car companies in the world, the 1950s saw Daimler helping to create the new European phenomenon: mass car ownership.

4) Total ($152.3bn), French oil, gas and chemicals company; avowedly the fourth biggest. Pumping oil in many countries, including Nigeria, Burma and Bolivia.
1957: Total had in 1954, launched its first logo, as part of a marketing drive to expand its business world wide, and was drilling in French-controlled Algeria. The two other companies – Elf and PetroFina – that were by 2003 to merge with Total, were also expanding operations, due to ‘explosive growth’ in car sales. All three companies received French state support, with Elf itself state owned until 1996.

5) ING Group ($138.2bn), Dutch financial group, running banks and insurance, across Europe and also North America. In the UK runs ‘ING Direct’, an internet bank.
1957: The companies that were to merge to form ING were Nationale-Nederlanden and the public-owned Rijkspostspaarbank, set up to enable saving by the Dutch poor, and which later merged with the Dutch giro payment service.

6) AXA ($129.8bn), French insurance company. In the UK AXA brands include Sun Life and PPP healthcare. Operates insurance in parts of Africa and in rich areas of the Middle East, like Bahrain, as well as across south-east Asia and owns one of America’s biggest insurance firms.
1957: The companies that were to make up AXA were Ancienne Mutuelle, Groupe Drouot and Groupe Présence.

7) Allianz ($121.4bn), German financial service provider – banking, property and health insurance. In the UK they own Cornhill Insurance.
1957: After the trauma of the war, Allianz was only just beginning to reestablish itself. In 1959 it opened an office in Paris again and begun expansion, including the takeover of an Australian mutual insurance company in the 1990s.

8) Volkswagen ($118.3bn), German car producer – Europe’s largest. Every fifth new car in Europe is produced by Volkswagen. Brands include Audi, Bentley, Lamborghini and Škoda.
1957: By 1955 Volkswagen had already sold 1m Beatles and had factories in Brazil, the US and Canada, as well as Europe. Bentley was still a British car brand, and Škoda was still a state-owned car company in what was then Czechoslovakia.

9) Fortis ($112.3bn), Belgium/Netherlands, banking and insurance. Since 2005 Fortis owns Turkey’s seventh biggest bank, Dışbank. In the UK, runs Assistance International.
1957: There were several companies that were to become Fortis – Algemeene Maatschappij tot Exploitatie van Verzekeringsmaatschappijen (AMEV); VSB Svings Bank Group (formed by a socialist savings bank movement) and ASLK-CGER, which grew from a Belgian government-sponsored savings movement.

10) Crédit Agricole ($110.7bn), French banking group, sixth largest in world. Merged with state-owned bank Crédit Lyonnais in 2003.
1957: Still largely focused on lending and holding the savings of farmers, Crédit Agricole expanded into mortgages in 1959. and its sister websites,,,,, and are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article.

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