At the Opening of the 5th Greek Raw Materials Community Dialogue: “There is a unique opportunity in Europe and Greece today to use the potential of the circular economy in order to address and close gaps of raw materials supply.”

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted to be speaking today at the Opening of the 5th Greek Raw Materials Community Dialogue.

I would like to start by thanking EIT Raw Materials, Mr Paspaliaris, and Mr Kubacki for hosting this important event this week.

In June of 2020, I was joined by 65 Members of the Parliament, from different political groups and 17 Member States, calling on the European Commission: “to deliver a bold agenda for all the raw materials needed for achieving climate-neutrality and the digital transition, which balances our need for supply resilience while always championing multilateral, free, fair and value-based trade”.

I am therefore pleased by recent EU developments on raw materials led by Commissioners Breton and Sefcovic, namely the Action Plan on Critical Raw Materials and the European Raw Materials Alliance, and by the strong show of support of this critical aspect of Europe’s Open Strategic Autonomy.
The pandemic has forced us to stop and re-evaluate interconnections in the global economy and admit that we have some dangerous dependencies and some worrying vulnerabilities.

Dependencies on video communications technologies for work, education and many functions of our daily lives, and vulnerabilities in global supply chains for necessities, such as medicine, masks and ventilators. There is a sense of urgency in dealing with this as a matter of security and resilience.
The European Union also realised, once again, its increasing reliance on a small number of foreign countries, namely China, for its supplies of critical raw materials, which are essential to the Green Deal nor the Digital transition.

Today, more than ever, we cannot take this issue lightly. We need to create resilient and sustainable supply chains for those critical raw materials, as they are our two modern locomotives for post COVID-19 recovery and prosperity.

Coal might no longer fuel Europe’s economic future, but imported critical raw materials like cobalt, lithium, rare earths, and others where Europe has an established industrial base like aluminium, copper, and nickel, are more critical than ever.

Ladies and Gentlemen, in a world of increasing instances of unfair trade practices, where multilateral trade rules are being openly questioned, the European Union has set “Open Strategic Autonomy” as the guiding principle to ensure supply diversification and resilience, while continuing to champion multilateral, free and value-based trade.

This is about protection, rather than protectionism. It is about having the necessary safeguards against our “systemic rival” China in an increasingly tense and competitive international environment.

It is also about asserting our autonomy from regional rivals, like Turkey, which supplies the EU with 98% of the EU borate supplies, used for permanent magnets and high performance glass. The European Union should never be reliant on a country, which is increasingly aggressive and so much antagonistic towards EU values.

And so, Open Strategic Autonomy is the context within which the European Union is seeing raw materials. Sustainability has come to the top of this agenda and the EU is being given the opportunity to lead in that area.

As per the topic put forth today, I will focus my intervention on the circular economy and sustainability.

The European Union and my political family, the European People’s Party, are fully committed to defending our industrial leadership, ensuring its sustainability, and scaling up our circular economy.

There is a unique opportunity in Europe today to use the potential of the circular economy in order to address and close gaps of raw materials supply. This is critical since, otherwise, Europe will not have the means to reach its ambitions.

Let me remind you that demand for primary and secondary raw materials will increase tremendously worldwide in the next decades.

In Europe only, to meet our green and digital transition objectives, we would 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, which are critical for products like wind generators and batteries, could increase up to ten-fold in the same period.

Given the forthcoming supply-demand dynamics, there is a need for securing raw materials availability in Europe from all sustainable sources. One area where we could clearly improve our efficiency lies with recycling.
Each year around 9.9 million tonnes of Waste Electronic and Electrical Equipment are generated in the EU, but only 30% is reported as properly collected and recycled.

The recovery of critical raw materials from this e-waste stands below 1% mostly because we do not have the necessary technology and industrial processes in place.

In November, Commissioner Sefcovic highlighted the vast untapped potential of so called “urban mines”, saying:
“If you just collect all the old cell phones we have in our drawers, we can immediately build four million car batteries just from the cobalt”.

Europe has low mining capacity and moderate smelting/refining capacity. Yet, it allows raw materials to go to waste.
If we are serious about lowering our dependency to foreign raw materials imports from China, we need to harness the potential recycling has – it is one of our major advantages.

The EU’s Circular Economy Package is a landmark in that sense. It aims to create a more resource-efficient economy, paving the way to capitalising on Europe’s “urban mine”, where valuable metals can be recycled from cars, buildings, packaging, e-waste and other applications.

However, it is important for me and for the EPP that this discussion around circularity is done with stakeholders and that we make sure policies do not hinder businesses.

This is why the European Raw Materials Alliance (ERMA) is also an important step in the right direction.
I have been involved with the ERMA since its launch and I highly encourage you to do the same
For those you don’t know ERMA, it is dynamic stakeholder forum aiming to mitigate regulatory and financing bottlenecks in the raw material sector, and help gather investment for all stages of the raw materials value chain – ranging from mining to processing and waste recovery.
It builds on the success of the European Battery Alliance, which enabled the EU to make a leap forward in developing a full battery manufacturing value chain. Last year, investments in the EU battery sector reached €60 billion and the EU is now finally taking a leadership position in this industry.
ERMA shoots for the same success. At the moment, aside from developing outreach and stakeholder relations, ERMA is promoting strategic investment in European projects to develop a sustainable domestic production and processing, particularly in the area of circularity.
• It set a high-level target until 2030 of 30bn EUR investment volume across raw materials value chains to secure the EU Green Deal through resilience and sustainability.
• The first investment themes to be prioritised of ca. 10bn EUR are:
o Mining and processing (ca. 50%), smelting and refining (ca. 30%), manufacturing (ca. 10%), recycling (ca. 10%)
o Also, rare earths magnets and motors (ca. 3.3bn EUR), energy storage and conversion (ca. 3.8bn EUR) and other important industrial value chains (ca. 3.2bn EUR)

Now, ERMA needs to go beyond being a wish list. It needs to provide the Commission with concrete proposals to unlock regulatory bottlenecks, bring investment to the sector, and create incentives for the industry.
This is where it is important that private and public Greek stakeholders have a strong voice and have clear objectives, otherwise there will be no tangible results for us and other Member States will benefit from EU policies.

For instance, Greece, which already supplies 12% of the EU’s Bauxite, has the potential to increase Europe’s overall supply of Bauxite by 1/3. We only need the necessary investment and engaging with ERMA and the European Commission will bring it home.

Some additional key objectives should be:

  1. The integration of the mining-metallurgical industry to the EU taxonomy for sustainable activities, which would ensure adequate funding for the sector, and have realistic objectives for businesses.
  2. Simplifying the licensing process for mining projects across Europe, by e.g. harmonising criteria and procedures, which would cut the lengthy, multifaceted procedures and bring renewed investors’ trust in the sector.

Now, more than ever, we need to make sure Greece reaps the benefits of this focus on raw materials and the circular economy.

It is an honour and a pleasure to be forefront of this battle with you.

Thank you.