The 25 percent tariffs will not be levied on all steel imports but rather will come into effect once import levels across a range of steel categories exceed a certain quota, set at the average import level of the past three years.
This system, known as a tariff rate quota, is designed to guard against a surge of steel imports into the bloc that would otherwise have been headed for the US market were it not for the recent imposition of tariffs by US President Donald Trump.
The European Commission says the EU has seen an increase in steel products reaching its market since the Trump tariffs came into effect in the United States. The 28-member bloc wants to protect its own manufacturers from cheaper steel flooding in from other global markets.
The Commission says the EU steel industry is "in a fragile situation and vulnerable to a further increase in imports". The fact that the US market is no longer appealing for European steel manufacturers as a result of the tariffs there is a further blow.
The new quota and tariff system will come into effect on Thursday, July 19, with 23 steel product categories to come under its sphere of influence.
Malmstrom said she believes the latest measures "strike the right balance between the interest of EU producers and users of steel, like the automotive industry and the construction sector, who rely on imports."
However, a lobby group for European carmakers — the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA) — was critical of the EU decision.
"These measures will be damaging to our competitiveness, as they will lead to steel price increases in the EU market, where prices are already very high," said ACEA chief Erik Jonnaert.
US slaps tariffs on EU steel and aluminum
The European steelmakers body Eurofer welcomed the move — initially a provisional one which can be in place for up to 200 days — but said they expected a glut of imports as steelmakers look to fill the quotas, which will be handled on a first-come, first-served basis by the EU.
The news came on the same day as confirmation that the EU will impose duties from Thursday on Chinese electric bicycles, which like the steel tariffs, are aimed at preventing a flood of cheap imports into the European market.