EU launches plan to lay hands on critical raw materials

4 September 2020

A desperate plunder for resources says Friends of the Earth

The European Commission has released new plans to access certain raw materials. They include an updated list of raw materials deemed critical for the EU; and an associated action plan.

These are raw materials that the European Commission deems to be of economic importance to the EU while having supply challenges. These are mostly metals and minerals found in everyday products, and of particular importance for electronics, renewable energy generation, and e-mobility. Materials newly added to the list of 30 include bauxite, lithium, and titanium.

However, Friends of the Earth Europe is concerned over the likely increase in mining activity, both in Europe and outside, particularly in Global South countries. The EU already consumes more than our global fair share of resources.

Meadhbh Bolger, resource justice campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe said:

“The EU is embarking on a desperate plunder for raw materials – seemingly at any cost. In the name of a supposedly greener economy, the European Commission’s new plans will lead to more extraction beyond ecological limits, more exploitation of communities and their land, and new toxic trade deals.”

The EU currently sources most of these resources from a handful of countries outside of Europe. The new plans focus on securing EU access to these materials, including increased sourcing from inside the EU, diversifying supply including with new free trade deals, and increasing sourcing from recycling.

There is no clear commitment to look deeper into actions on reducing absolute resource use and thus limiting added demand for critical raw materials (some increase will be inevitable for a green transition). Also missing are any actions on the social side relating to communities' right to say no to new mining developments.

There are some positive actions related to secondary sourcing, however recycling and secondary sourcing will only meet a small amount of the enormous increase of metals and minerals needed if Europe keeps overconsuming.

Meadhbh Bolger continued:

“Europe is consuming as if we had three planets available, simply switching types of raw materials to meet our business-as-usual economic growth demand will not cut it. We must urgently reduce our absolute resource consumption and shift away from policies for ever more growth.”

Local community voices are already resisting critical raw material mines in Europe e.g. in northern Spain there are local objections regarding a proposed lithium mine.

Friends of the Earth Europe also has concerns that a new industry-led European Raw Materials Alliance is gifting industry further influence over policy-making.