ARNHEM, The Netherlands - Akzo Nobel N.V. announced plans to "instensify" cost-cutting actions despite only a slight decline in net earnings in 2001 from the previous year. The company, the world's biggest coatings producer, said it will accelerate a restructuring program launched last year and will eliminate 2,000 jobs in the company's coatings business in Europe and the United States.

For 2001, Akzo Nobel reported net earnings of 938 million euros, or $821 million U.S., a decline of 1% from 2000. The company said sales rose for its Coatings segment, but Chairman Cees van Lede said a restructuring program launched last year would be "intensified in order to improve the cost structure" and "create a platform for more growth." He said the company will seek to reduce costs by approximately 200 million euros annually over the next several years.

Van Lede said the company's results for 2001 "held steady in a difficult global environment thanks to a resilient mix of businesses, as well as restructuring measures." He said he anticipates net earnings for 2002 to exceed the company's record results of 2000.

Separately, Akzo Nobel announced that Van Lede will retire, effective May 1, 2003, and will be succeeded by Hans Wijers, currently senior vice president of the Boston Consulting Group and chairman of the firm's Dutch office. Wijers is scheduled to join the Akzo Nobel board on Oct. 1, and will be an adviser to the board beginning on July 1. He was formerly managing partner with Boston Consulting, and from 1994-98 was the Dutch minister for Economic Affairs.

Wijers' appointment as Akzo Nobel chairman is subject to approval at the company's general meeting on April 24.