The European Commission wants to obtain more critical raw materials from its own soil in the coming years. Earth metals such as lithium, iridium and neodymium are used in a wide range of household appliances, but are also needed for the production of wind turbines and electric cars. The substances are therefore very important for Europe’s climate goals, but the EU is now heavily dependent on other countries for their extraction and production.
“It is in all of our interests to increase production in the EU in a sustainable way,” said committee chair Ursula von der Leyen.
The demand for the critical raw materials is expected to rise ‘dramatically’. For example, the European Union would need twelve times as much lithium in 2030 as it does now. The substance is used in electric cars and batteries, among other things.
Mines would have to be opened again in Europe to meet the demand. The plan is to obtain 15 percent of the rare raw materials from reuse by 2030, and to extract 10 percent ourselves. 40 percent of the substances must be processed in factories in Europe. The substances are now mainly obtained and processed in China, but also from Turkey and the Democratic Republic of Congo, among others. 98 percent of rare earth metals are now produced in China.
Risk of shortages
The European Commission wants to get rid of this great dependence; the risk of shortages is too great. Moreover, its production is now subject to geopolitical fluctuations. The committee cites the shortages in the corona pandemic, shortages in the chip sector and the energy crisis after the Russian invasion of Ukraine as examples of this dependence.
The committee does recognize that the EU will never be completely self-sufficient. The plan therefore also focuses on “strategic projects outside the EU” in “like-minded countries” where there are many critical raw materials.
Mines were closed in Europe in the last century; the working conditions were often poor, they were too expensive and can cause environmental damage. The plans have therefore been criticized.
MEP Mohammed Chahim (PvdA) argues for “very clear” social and environmental conditions for new mining. Moreover, he says that Europe “in addition to new rare raw materials, can also make a huge leap in the reuse of raw materials”. “To make that move, we need binding targets for the recycling of raw materials. Only then will we create a market for their reuse.”
‘From Russian gas to Chinese raw materials’
CDA does welcome the committee’s plans: “We are currently trading one dependency for another: from Russian gas to Chinese raw materials,” says CDA MEP Tom Berendsen. “We must never again be as blackmailable as we were last year and must therefore be less naive about these kinds of strategic dependencies. These critical raw materials are crucial for the European energy transition and our economy of the future. It is good that the European Commission now also recognizes this.”
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