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Speech by Vice-President Šefčovič at the Press Conference on critical raw materials resilience in the EU

Met dank overgenomen van Europese Commissie (EC), gepubliceerd op donderdag 3 september 2020.
  • For all of us, the coronavirus crisis has increased our reliance on technology. It was invaluable for work, for school, for staying informed or in touch with our families or other colleagues
  • But if we want to keep benefitting in the long run from modern products - from consumer electronics such as smartphones, TV or computer screens, to our electric cars and clean energy equipment - it is quite clear that we have to drastically change our approach to critical raw materials.
  • Raw materials will play a hugely important part in our future, especially given the ongoing transition towards a green and digital economy - a trend not only accelerated, but one, which lies at the heart of our recovery.
  • We need to ensure a secure and sustainable supply of raw materials to meet the needs of the clean and digital technologies - including in the health sector and the space and defence industries - we have to avoid them competing with each other for finite resources. And we must be able to prepare for any future disruptions in our value chains.
  • In order to succeed, we must acknowledge some hard truths.
  • Today, Europe is highly dependent on a limited number of non-EU countries for its raw materials: for instance, we get between 75 and 100 percent of most metals from outside the EU, while China provides 98 percent of our supply of rare earth
  • In the world of tomorrow, this overreliance may become even more acute. Our strategic foresight tells us that the demand for raw materials is only going to rise: for example, Europe will need almost 60 times more lithium and 15 times more cobalt by 2050 for electric cars and energy storage alone. Demand for rare earths used in permanent magnets, critical for products like wind generators, could increase ten-fold in the same period.
  • The simple truth also is that we are largely dependent on unsustainable raw materials from countries with much lower environmental and social standards, less freedoms or unstable economies.
  • Today's Action Plan outlines concrete steps we are taking in response - altogether, they will help make Europe more resilient and boost our open strategic autonomy in an interdependent world. In a moment, Commissioner Breton will elaborate on this subject.
  • We cannot replace our current reliance on fossil fuels with one on critical raw materials.
  • In practice, this means we need to:
  • diversify supply and make better use of the resources available within the European Union - applying the highest environmental and social standards to that effect;
  • we also need to scale up reuse, repair and recycling of products;
  • We must support innovation for alternatives and resource efficiency;
  • and finally, we need to engage in strategic trade policy and economic diplomacy.
  • To help achieve this - together with Thierry - we will launch a European Raw Materials Alliance later this month. It will be modelled on the highly successful European Battery Alliance - a clear example of the EU making good use of strategic foresight.
  • For instance, under the EU Battery Alliance, we are already substantially boosting our domestic capacities in the lithium industry.
  • Four key industrial projects in sustainable mining and processing, totalling almost € 2 billion, are underway in Europe. They are expected to cover 80 percent of our lithium needs in the battery sector by 2025 already. Just to compare, this would help reduce our overreliance on Chile, which currently provides some 78 percent of our overall needs.
  • Based on its changed economic importance, lithium has today been added to the 2020 list of critical raw materials for the first time.
  • All this has inspired our ambition to cover other raw materials essential for European value chains in many more strategic sectors.
  • So building on what we have learnt, the Raw Materials Alliance will mobilise industrial and innovation actors, Member States, regions, the EIB, investors, social partners and civil society - in order to help build our capacities along the entire value chain, from mining to waste recovery. The task will be to identify bottlenecks, opportunities and investment cases or projects that should be operational by 2025.
  • Strategic foresight will be contributing continuously. As part of it, we look at vulnerabilities and capacities of Member States in relation to raw materials - especially how Member States put in place policies that can increase our resilience.
  • This shows us that for instance, the recycling rate of the electronic waste is among strong points across many countries. Every year, 9 million tonnes of waste electrical and electronic equipment is generated in the EU. Around 30 percent is collected and recycled.
  • But the recovery of the critical raw materials from this e-waste stands below 1 percent. Exploiting these urban mines - that is, recovering raw materials from urban waste through recycling - could eventually satisfy a large share of the EU's demand for critical raw materials.
  • Let me conclude by underlining that raw materials are vital for growing and modernising our economies in a sustainable way, especially in the context of recovery from this pandemic.
  • I would therefore appeal that we make full use of our recovery instruments here. This is our chance to do more than just a quick fix or applying a Band-Aid. We must take strategic action that will result in long-lasting changes - and in Europe being economically as well as geopolitically more resilient.
  • Thank you

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