Euronews Interview on the EU Leaders’ Summit on Turkey
Ladies and Gentlemen
I am honoured to be speaking today at the launch meeting of the European Raw Materials Alliance.
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”.
Therefore, I am pleased today to see such an impressive turnout and a strong show of support of this critical aspect of Europe’s Open Strategic Autonomy.
70 years ago, Robert Schuman united Europe on a convincing path towards peace and prosperity. The Schuman Declaration of 1950 brought Europeans together around the need to manage critical resources like steel and coal, then the two locomotives of the economy.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to stop and re-evaluate interconnections in the global economy. Its disruption of worldwide supply chains and increasing tensions between major powers has brought forward, once again, the European Union’s problematic reliance on third countries for raw materials.
It is not the first time the European Union discusses this dependence. The European Council first highlighted it as early as 1975. Since then, the European Union sought ways to address this issue, from the establishment of the Raw Materials Supply Group in the 1970s to the launch of the EU raw materials initiative in 2008.
Today, more than ever, we cannot take this issue lightly. We need to create resilient and sustainable supply chains for those raw materials necessary to the Green Deal and the digital transition, 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.
The Action Plan on Critical Raw Materials and the European Raw Materials Alliance are important steps towards an EU industrial strategy that reinforces Europe’s open strategic autonomy and creates resilient value chains.
The European Union is not alone in doing this: the United States is reviving investment plans for its rare earths industry, while Russia unveiled a $1.5bn rare earths plan in August to dent China’s rare earth dominance.
China’s dominance is a result of Beijing’s far-reaching industrial strategies, which have included massive subsidies for strategic sectors like steel and aluminium, and restrictions on exports of rare earths and other critical elements, whenever it deems necessary.
Two shocking statistics:
• China provides 98% of the EU’s supply for rare earth elements, which are used for batteries, high-performance magnets, alloys, electronics, and as catalysts.
• China also provides 93% of the EU’s magnesium, which is used for products ranging from cars and wind turbines to electronic components.
Europe has its own sourcing capabilities on which it should build. For instance, 12% of EU Bauxite supplies comes from Greece. With the necessary investment, Greek bauxite could increase Europe’s overall supply by 1/3. This would increase the EU’s resilience and autonomy, while also supporting our economy and values.
Strategic Autonomy for raw materials goes far beyond sourcing: it is also required throughout value chains, from upstream to downstream. A policy of strategic autonomy will also help Europe to guarantee that high environmental and social standards are met.
Again, China, dominates here as it makes key components and develops new technologies. It produces 72% of the world’s solar modules, 69% of its lithium-ion batteries, and 45% of its wind turbines.
It will not be enough for the European Union to secure raw materials supplies from primary sources and from recycling; we urgently need to invest in our processing and production capabilities as well.
China produces today 60% of aluminium with massive subsidies from the state and China’s volumes make it capable of entirely replacing the European aluminium industry but with a carbon footprint that is three times higher than the aluminium produced in Europe. 20 years ago, Europe lost its own thriving magnesium industry due to unfair Chinese competition. We cannot let that happen to our other strategic resources under the same pressure today, from our aluminium to our silicon.
We have no time to waste. The European Union’s continued reliance on a “systemic rival” is a far cry from the Schuman Declaration’s vision of our continent united around its “common foundations for economic development”.
Ladies and Gentlemen, this is an opportune moment for the European Commission to pursue its geopolitical objective and defend our industrial leadership.
To do so we need significant investment in R&D, upskilling and re-skilling, transparency and legal certainty for EU taxonomy for sustainable activities, and campaigns aimed at local communities to inform and explain our need for critical raw materials in the “new normal”.
The European Parliament’s committee on International Trade, where I am Vice-Chair, firmly believes in improving the Union’s open strategic autonomy, with resilient and diversified supply chains, while also engaging with global partners that share our values.
The European People’s Party, my political family, also supports this approach.
Strategic industries have been at the heart of the European project for the last 70 years. Robert Schuman had originally envisioned a Europe “built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity”. The COVID-19 pandemic is the opportunity to realise Schuman’s vision to unite European nations this time around the goal of open strategic autonomy.
Autonomy, or «αυτονομία» in Greek, comes from the words αὐτός (autós, “self”) and νόμος (nómos, “law”). It means being free to make your own rules. In fact, it is your right to be able to make your own rules. These rules in Europe are based on commonly shared values: democracy, rule of law, and respect for human rights.
Now more than ever, it is clear that we must be particularly vigilant in order to safeguard these rules.
Viewed in this light, the Action Plan on Critical Raw Materials and the creation of the European Raw Material Alliance are critical in and of themselves for many reasons. They are critical for Europe’s industrial and trade strategy, critical for Europe’s autonomy, and ultimately, critical for democracy.