Critical Raw Materials are key to enable the European industry to meet our political goals and ambitions of the twin green and digital transitions. They are gaining additional importance in light of the defence and space sector facing Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and the ongoing war in Europe.
Against this background, the Critical Raw Materials Act is an important initiative for an active European diversified raw materials policy that brings sustainable mining, processing, and recycling and circular economy forward.
However, we need a forward-looking strategic plan on how to handle the increased European and global demand for Critical Raw Materials. Here we should highlight the increased need for substitution of raw materials but also emphasise sufficiency and ensure that demand-side actions are carried out to curb the future demand.
Circular economy must be at the heart of any critical raw materials strategy.
Diversified supply of primary materials is the current challenge. If necessary, sustainable mining needs to be promoted with the highest possible environmental and societal standards. Regardless whether extraction activities takes place within the EU or in other countries. It must be ensured that we do not cause harm to our environment and society. A blind call for more mining is out of place. Mining in Europe should be a well-coordinated, supervised and monitored process of a well-balanced policy ensuring our European strategic autonomy and competitiveness of our European green industries. Reducing the complexity and increasing the efficiency of extraction projects should not sacrifice the environment and people’s needs in the corresponding mining regions. Mining in European protected areas such as Natura 2000 must not be allowed.
According to the Impact Assessment and based on Commission services most exploration companies active in Europe are based outside of the EU. Most interviewed private and public financial institutions have not been involved in financing exploration projects and stated that this was due to the high risk involved. Financing of new mines is generally considered very risky and the private financial sector is not willing to engage. However, they are willing to engage in processing and refining as well as recycling activities.
In the long term, a circular economy must be the target for all policies on the EU level regarding raw materials. Subsequently recycling is the most important element for a circular economy.
We must design forward-looking policies with ambitious and realistic targets that evolve over time and take into account the whole life cycle of the product.
Boosting innovation, research, and skills is equally important. Here I welcome the Commission’s call to strengthen the uptake and deployment of breakthrough technologies in critical raw materials. Large-scale skills partnerships on critical and strategic raw materials and a Raw Materials Academy that will promote skills relevant to the workforce in critical raw materials supply chains is certainly important. The emergence of the European critical raw materials value chain would create further demand for skilled workers, thereby posing a risk for shortage increase if no action is undertaken. The materials dimension of the battery value chain alone may create up to around 200 000 jobs in 2030 and 0.5 million jobs when in full transition (after 2030).1
Furthermore, diversifying the Union’s imports of critical raw materials is a key to ensure a successful industrial policy.
While Europe still heavily depends on imports on raw materials by often geopolitically questionable countries, I see a huge potential for developing the market for secondary raw materials and reuse it.
The EU hast to strengthen its global engagement with likeminded partners, including by establishing a Critical Raw Materials Club. We need an active sustainable European raw materials policy in the future with the Green Deal at its core.
1 Fraunhofer-institut für system und innovationsforschung ISI – Job preview study: job effects in the upstram battery value chain quoted after file:///C:/Users/agarlinska/Downloads/090166e5f9401c33%20(3).pdf