MEPs vote on Critical Raw Materials: what to watch
Brussels, 17 November 2021 – Next week, the European Parliament will vote on their opinion on the European Commission’s Critical Raw Materials Action Plan. This is the first time the European Parliament will vote on this issue. Overall, they are set to support the Commission’s damaging plan of action to secure EU access for continued extraction and overconsumption of raw materials.
The Action Plan, published in September 2020, outlines EU plans to access a set of 30 raw materials deemed “critical for the EU” but with “supply challenges”. These are mostly metals and minerals found in everyday products, and of particular importance for green and digital transition technologies. Civil society were critical of the Action Plan, calling it a “desperate plunder for resources”, and said it gifts industry further influence over policy-making, with the setting up of the industry-driven European Raw Materials Alliance.
Nature and communities are on the frontlines of these plans of extraction and exploitation in a frantic search for ways to continue the EU economic growth model, yet be more “green”. Communities outside of the EU, where the EU still source almost all of these materials, will continue to suffer at the hands of EU overconsumption and unfair trade rules. Communities in the EU are also increasingly seeing new mining projects planned, from lithium to rare earth mines, in Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Finland and beyond.
Report and vote
The European Parliament’s opinion (attached to email) is led by its Industry Committee, with German EPP MEP Hildegard Bentele as rapporteur. Opinions from the Environment and Trade Committees have also been mostly merged into the opinion report.
With the EPP as lead, the report as it stands largely reflects the European Commission narrative and content. Some progressive parts have made it through from the Environment committee opinion, led by Belgian Greens MEP Sara Matthieu, whilst some damaging additions have been made by the Trade committee, led by Austrian ID MEP Roman Haider (see below).
European Parliament groups can submit amendments to the final report today (Wednesday 17th November). It is likely EPP, ECR and ID will submit several amendments to weaken the text. The final vote will be on either Wednesday 24th or Thursday 25th November.
See Friends of the Earth Europe and the European Environmental Bureau’s recent report on the topic: Green Mining is Myth: the case for cutting EU resource consumption.
The report overall maintains the damaging assertion that the EU can easily continue to exploit other countries’, and its own, nature and communities to meet EU material and energy overconsumption. There are some positive parts, but overall, these are outweighed by harmful and contradictory parts.
Key “good +” and “bad –” paragraphs to keep an eye on:
- + Reduce resource consumption and increase circularity. Paragraph 3 warns that “the EU’s transition to climate neutrality should not replace reliance on fossil fuels with reliance on raw materials” and stresses the role of the “minimisation of resource consumption”. This is of critical importance given that the EU consumes more than double a fair and sustainable share of materials. Paragraph 28 positively calls on the Commission to “make the transition to a circular economy a priority,…..keeping and reusing valuable raw materials within the EU”.
- + Rights of communities. Paragraph 72 calls on the Commission “to ensure that local authorities adopt and enforce the right of local communities to effective and inclusive participation in permit procedures for new mining prospecting and extraction projects”.
This is a positive step in the direction towards communities’ ‘Right to Say No’ to mining. The current approach of ‘Social License to Operate’ facilitates extractives’ development with as little community input, transparency and dissent as possible, on the premise that companies will eventually start mining, and that local communities do not have a genuine right to stop them. The EPP are attempting to weaken this paragraph.
- – “Balancing” mining and nature protection. Extremely concerning is paragraph 50 which calls on the need to “balance both the EU’s increased need for sustainably sourced CRMs and the need to protect nature and biodiversity”. We see this as a huge danger – mining industry interests or/and raw materials exploitation are being equated with interests of the general public, such as the protection of biodiversity hot spots and environmental protection. Once biodiversity-rich areas are destroyed or species eradicated, they are lost forever.
- – Unfair trade rules. Paragraphs 58, 73, 74, 76 and 79 embody a classic neo-colonial approach to trade, primarily seeking to ensure market access for European investors and to prevent export restrictions and further processing in the country where the raw materials are extracted. This restricts the sovereignty of states and hinders their ability to choose their own path of development. For example, paragraph 58 aims to ensure maximum access to resources for the EU when it calls for “exploitation of CRMs in Africa” and paragraph 79 calls on the Commission to “curtail such distorivie export restrictions on CRMs”. These are in strong contradiction to the Parliament’s own resolution from March 2021 on a new EU-Africa Strategy, where it states “one of the main challenges for developing countries is to climb up the global value chain through economic diversification” and calls on the Commission “to refrain from adopting a trade policy that as a general rule prohibits African countries from levying export taxes on raw materials…”.
- – Stockpiling. Paragraph 22 advocates for the idea of stockpiling raw materials, seemingly equating critical raw materials to fossil fuels commodities. It is reminiscent of the “butter mountains” saga several decades ago, when government intervention led to a large production surplus. However, the paragraph is absolutely unclear which raw materials, from which mines, for which prices, to which amounts and to which mining standards should be stockpiled. Concerns over who will be accountable for human rights violations during the stockpiling process arise at a time when there is no clear consensus on the ambition of the upcoming due diligence law. In addition, who decides which company or industry sector can apply for which amount at which price to use materials from stockpiles? There is a threat that the EU would create a huge, expensive bureaucracy highly vulnerable to corruption.
The vote will indicate the European Parliament’s opinion on this important topic and provide input to the European Commission for their taking forward of the Action Plan. As it is not a legislative text, there will be no binding requirements or follow ups.