EU’s Sefcovic: Real risk that ‘raw materials become the new oil’

(EurActiv, 20 Nov 2018) Europeans have to be “very vigilant” that today’s dependency on imported oil and gas is not replaced by dependency on lithium, cobalt, copper and other raw materials that industries need for the green transition, Maroš Šefčovič told EURACTIV.

“I really think that, when it comes to the issue of dependency, we could end up in a situation where raw materials become the new oil,” the European Commission vice-president warned in an exclusive interview.

Maroš Šefčovič is vice-president of the European Commission in charge of the energy union. He spoke to EURACTIV’s energy and environment editor, Frédéric Simon, at the end of EU Raw Materials Week 2018.

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS:

  • European Commission is looking at access to raw materials with increased scrutiny
  • Discussions intensify with EU member states on how to develop mining activities inside Europe, re-opening old mines and opening new ones
  • Initiatives on battery manufacturing are in the pipeline for the coming year, including standardisation and regulatory alignment
  • Lithium refining is being promoted as part of a broader strategic push to develop an entire battery value-chain inside Europe
  • New Africa-Europe Alliance to promote sustainable mining, with the aim to leverage up to €44 billion of investments into the region by 2020
  • This means European companies should also be ready to pay taxes, and play a role in the local economy, to the benefit of African countries

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It’s been ten years now since the European Commission adopted its raw materials initiative, in a context of increased competition for natural resources, which saw metal prices triple between 2002 and 2008. Those worries were swept away by the financial crisis but now that the economy is back on track, do you see a risk that raw material prices will start rising again?

It’s already happening. And the strategy that we adopted ten years ago had three priorities which are still relevant today. The first is access to raw materials outside of Europe; the second is mining raw materials inside Europe in a sustainable way; and the third priority which is becoming even more important in the coming years, is how we can improve reuse and recycling.

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EurActiv, 20 Nov 2018: EU’s Sefcovic: Real risk that ‘raw materials become the new oil’