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Speech by Commissioner Breton at the launch of the European Raw Materials Alliance

Met dank overgenomen van Europese Commissie (EC), gepubliceerd op dinsdag 29 september 2020.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Welcome to the launch meeting of the European Raw Materials Alliance!

Europe has set out the ambition to be the first supplier of green energy, to be the first digital continent, and also the first continent in terms of the circular economy.

Making these ambitions a reality requires critical materials, such as lithium for batteries, magnets, or semiconductors.

To meet our Green Deal targets, by 2030 and by 2050 we will need even higher amounts of critical raw materials for our strategic sectors and technologies.

In supplying these critical raw materials, we rely heavily on imports from a small number of third countries. For example, China provides 98% of the EU's supply of rare earth elements, Turkey provides 98% of the EU's supply of borate, and South Africa provides 71% of the EU's needs for platinum.

But there are also many of these materials present in Europe. Be it cobalt, bauxite, beryllium, bismuth, gallium, germanium, indium, niobium or borate: Europe has significant potential deposits, which we observe by satellite through our Copernicus programme.

We have, for example, considerable lithium resources in Europe. We are positioning ourselves so that by 2025 we will be almost self-sufficient in lithium for our batteries.

This does not mean, however, that we want to produce everything in Europe. Our resources are large and diversified, but they are not sufficient to cover all our needs. That is why we want to forge major partnerships with third countries, such as Canada and Australia, and better integrate interested African countries into European value chains and to develop their economies.

Because when we speak of strategic autonomy - or what is sometimes referred to as sovereignty or resilience - we are not talking about isolating ourselves from the world, but having choice, alternatives, competition. Avoiding unwanted dependencies, both economically and geopolitically.

It is in this context that we must read the Commission's Action Plan on Critical Raw Materials that Maros Šefčovič and I presented earlier this month.

Need for resilient EU raw materials supply chains and EU open strategic autonomy

COVID-19 disrupted global supply chains across the board, including for raw materials. This confirmed our analysis, as laid out in the March Industrial Strategy, that we need to think more strategically to anticipate other possible disruptions in future.

We must boost our own domestic capacity for primary raw materials and for secondary raw materials through enhanced circularity.

We must also ensure diversified and undistorted access to global markets for sustainably sourced raw materials, while ensuring ethical sourcing and safe work conditions.

Moreover, we also need to look at loopholes in the value chain. It is not sufficient to have the raw materials if we do not have the processing facilities in Europe.

And we aim to do all this with the highest environmental and biodiversity protection standards.

Many of these raw materials are recyclable; this is an industry and a real know-how. This recycling economy is going to be very important. We have fully entered into an economy, both of sharing, but also of material efficiency, where circularity becomes important.

I am proud to launch, together with Vice President Šefčovič, the European Raw Materials Alliance, the very first action point of our Plan.

Purpose of the European Raw Materials Alliance

The overall goal of the European Raw Materials Alliance is to boost EU resilience in the rare earths and permanent magnets value chain that are vital for many industrial ecosystems. These industrial ecosystems bring together all actors from a sector, from large companies to small SMEs and start-ups, from training centres to research institutes, and from associated services to suppliers.

The members of the Alliance will identify bottlenecks, as well as priority actions and investment cases to tackle them.

The next step for the Alliance will be to address other important problems relating to critical raw materials or raw materials more generally, such as base metals.

Same approach as successful European Battery Alliance

The European Raw Materials Alliance will follow the successful approach of the European Battery Alliance - Vice President Sefcovic will speak more about this.

It will have a flexible governance framework built on the principles of openness, transparency, diversity and inclusiveness.

The Alliance will be open to companies, regions, research institutions, unions and non-governmental organisations, covering the whole value chain.

Role of the EIT RawMaterials

The Knowledge and Innovation Community of EIT RawMaterials will manage the Alliance, just like EIT Inno-Energy manages the European Battery Alliance.

Both Knowledge Innovation Communities were set up and are funded by an EU body: the European Institute of Innovation and Technology.

EIT RawMaterials connects entrepreneurs, innovators, universities and researchers in the field of raw materials.

It is therefore an ideal guarantor for inclusiveness.

Because the Alliance is not about imposing solutions on anyone.

It is about all key players taking responsibility, and working together, with public support, to deliver results on the ground.

Involvement of EU industry and civil society

I am pleased to see that so far around 100 industry partners, 40 industry associations, the European Federation of Geologists, and the French Ministry for the Economy and Finance have already endorsed the European Raw Materials Alliance.

This is proof that this Alliance meets a real need.

While IndustriAll, Green 10 and Friends of the Earth Europe are represented today, I would still like to encourage more trade unions and NGOs to participate, since it is essential that they contribute to the work of the Alliance so that it takes all aspects into consideration and is socially accepted.

Yesterday, I received a letter by civil society representatives laying out their concerns about the Raw Materials Alliance. I read it with attention and I look forward to engaging with you to address legitimate concerns including about how to engage with local communities, enforcement, third countries or due diligence - on which we are proposing rules in the upcoming batteries regulation.

We need to work together and move on from the situation where Europe imports raw materials and closes its eyes to problems linked to raw materials in third countries. Taking more responsibility ourselves and applying high environmental and social standards is part of the solution.

Involvement of EU regions and EU Member States

The involvement of regions will be important. Regions are closest to the local communities. They know whether a project in there will have public support or not.

Together with national authorities, regions are responsible for ensuring that all relevant laws and consultation processes with local communities are respected.

I hope that many regions, especially regions with a proud mining tradition, will see the potential for attracting jobs and investment through projects around sustainable raw material value chains.

For instance, European coal regions could specialise in sustainable sourcing of raw materials, employing miners with transferrable skills, in the context of a Just Transition.

In this context, I encourage Member States to include investments in critical raw materials into their national recovery plans.

Involvement of third countries

The Alliance will not be inward looking.

As the Action Plan on Critical Raw Materials explains, boosting Europe's own capacity and increasing circularity will not be enough.

To become green, digital and resilient, EU industry also needs to diversify its supply from outside Europe.

The EU Action Plan announced our intention to develop strategic partnerships with resource-rich countries. Companies from third countries that agree with the aims of the Alliance will be able to join the Alliance.

To illustrate this, it will be my pleasure to hear this afternoon from the Honourable Seamus O'Regan, the Canadian Minister of Natural Resources.

Conclusion

I am pleased to see that all key players in the Alliance are represented here, together with representatives of several EU bodies.

I am looking forward to listening to your interventions. Afterwards, there will be an opportunity to ask questions.

I will now ask my colleague Maroš Šefčovič to give his opening remarks.


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