Increase mining capacity in Europe by diversifying its value chains and investing in recycling

By Mauri Pekkarinen, MEP (Renew Europe - Finland), ITRE Committee Member)

European Commission presented it’s proposal for Critical Raw Materials Act 16th of March 2023.

To boost EU autonomy, the European Commission is seeking to introduce targets of 10%-40% of the mining, recycling, and processing of critical raw materials used in the bloc to be done in the EU by 2030.

The Commission’s proposal is in the right direction, but insufficient.

Putin’s brutal war has weakened the whole world’s geopolitical situation. Among many other issues, risks to raw materials’ supply chains have grown. At worst, they threaten EU’s two great and necessary reforms: the green and digital transitions. Even worse, the trade political confrontation between the great economic areas has escalated that may also pose threats to the security and stability objectives of the Commission.

This is a challenge to our union and its autonomy. It needs to be reinforced. Improving our access to the critical raw materials we need is in a key role. We need a major reform. We need to be able to take responsibility for our own raw material supply.

We all know that China has an outsize role in the global markets for metals. The same goes when we look at the thirty critical materials for Europe.

Until now, Europe has put the responsibility on others, so to say, for the production of the raw materials it needs. At the same time, it has neglected the security of supply of the raw materials it needs for its industrial production. At the same time, EU has closed its eyes to securing the environmental performance of imported raw materials by referring to WTO rules, rules which China and the US are no longer abiding by.

For example, during the last 10 years, China has put a lot of effort into developing its skills in refining and technologies. Extracted raw materials are exported to Asia, and China especially, for refining. Europe’s dependency takes many forms.

This is not a responsible way to go. Especially now that the operating environment has changed, maybe for good.

Development of the circular economy is often spoken of in connection with critical raw materials. Even, in the Commission’s proposal. Recycling does offer an important part solution to the supply challenges of critical raw materials. However, there is always a delay in getting significant amounts of material from recycling. This is because the original products need to be at the end of their life cycle. We should use both carrots and sticks to develop it further.

For example, the effective use of industrial side streams could offer possibilities to recover discarded critical raw materials and rare earth elements alongside other technical materials and metals. We should encourage the documentation, assessment and recovery of these valuable materials always where possible.

Our strategic autonomy’s development cannot be solely based on recycling alone, however. We cannot count too much on the good functioning of supply chains either. We should also recall that not all sources of supply fulfil the environmental or ethical standards we would like to see.

EU should put much more effort than it does now in increasing mining activities that take place within its borders. There are opportunities in different parts of Europe. By using the newest technologies we can and we should act in a way that is sustainable both for the environment and the people.

The exploration of mineral deposits needs to be based on openness, transparency, consulting locals and on fast and flexible permitting processes. Permitting conditions need to place sustainable requirements both for mining activity and the restoration after mining activities have ended.

Innovative bio-economy provides opportunities to reduce EU’s raw material resilience. For instance, in the future, we may be able to manufacture forest industry’s residues into raw materials for the battery industry.

At the same time we would be able to replace non-renewables with renewable alternatives.

Alongside the generally known critical metals and minerals, the “generally produced” minerals are becoming more and more critical too.

Europe needs to catch up with other in the global race for responsible acquisition of metals and minerals for keeping up industry´s competitiveness to provide solutions to the green and digital transitions.