Lawmakers last week (1 July) asked the European Commission to establish a permanent task force to assess the EU’s need for raw materials used in a wide range of hi-tech, defence and green products.
The European Parliament’s industry committee adopted last week a draft report on the EU’s raw materials strategy, presented by the Commission in February.
The report asks the Commission to establish “a risk radar for critical raw materials (CRM)” to analyse future needs and prices, as well as the impact of potential shortages.
MEPs called for particular attention be paid to rare earths, renewable energy, high-tech industries, and the defence and automotive sectors.
Shortages of rare earth minerals, used in high-tech and defence production, have sent jitters around the world since dominant producer China began to restrict exports.
The European Commission has identified a list of 14 economically important such materials, including rare earths such as germanium, which is used in military fibre-optic systems and infrared optics, and gallium, which is used in LED lighting.
The report, drafted by Green German MEP Reinhard Bütikofer, was adopted with 43 votes, three against and no abstentions. Most of the compromise amendments were adopted.
Lawmakers called for a high-level raw materials task force to be set up at the European Commission before the end of 2011. The group would be modelled on existing French and US task forces and would include representatives of the Joint Research Centre, the European Environment Agency and the European External Action Service, they said.
The high-level group would outline, monitor and review policies “to ensure strategic coherence and promote the establishment of an early-warning system for market distortion and resource-fuelled conflicts”.
In parallel, MEPs asked the EU executive to set up a long-term ‘European Raw Materials Roadmap to 2050’ that would identify future developments, threats and opportunities in the raw materials sector and enable industry, as well as academic and research institutions, “to engage in long-term planning and investment”.
Regarding trade restrictions, lawmakers call on the Commission and WTO to address the issue and “to further legal steps within the international trade framework”. The EU executive is asked to pursue an active ‘raw materials diplomacy’ encompassing foreign, trade, environment and development policies.
Mining in sensitive areas
MEPs welcomed the guidelines, presented by the Commission in October 2010, on reconciling demand for mining raw materials within the EU’s Natura 2000 network of protected sites. They called on the Commission “to check on a regular basis” whether member states are truly doing progress on this.
The report also asks the EU executive to assess the possibilities of “environmentally sustainable exploitation of sensitive areas that might be valuable suppliers of essential raw materials, such as the Arctic, Barents Region and Greenland”.
Lawmakers further ask the Commission to make an analysis of the entire life-cycle of raw materials by sector – from mining to waste – and look for cheaper ways to increase recycling, investigate and promote urban mining projects and harmonise European legislation with minimum recycling standards.
Accusations of vested interested
The adoption of the draft report comes in the wake of accusations by the Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), a transparency group, that the raw materials debate in the Parliament is led by MEPs who have vested interests in eliminating barriers to mining.
The group claims that several MEPs working on the EU raw materials initiative have “close links to industry” and that these lawmakers have been fiercely calling for “European big business to be allowed to exploit other countries’ raw materials without any restrictions – via trade, development and even military policies”.
In parallel the NGO claims that the same MEPs have tried to block strong language in the Industry Committee’s draft report on the need to stop corporate abuse in the extraction sector and to reduce Europe’s over-consumption of raw materials.
The allegations were strongly refuted by the members of parliament concerned.