As political tensions grow globally, the concern of EU policymakers about the supply of certain raw materials essential for the European industry also increases. This concern has led to a renewed interest in starting new mining projects in European territory.
This is not an easy goal from the point of view of the social license to operate, that is, the acceptance of all social actors, specifically local communities, to carry out mining projects in their territories. Mining is still perceived as an outdated, polluting activity, which only takes place in remote parts of the planet and of which we practically never have positive news. This perception goes hand in hand with a fairly widespread lack of knowledge about the essential role that raw materials play not only in our day-to-day lives, but also in a sustainable and low-carbon emissions’ future.
The truth is that the EU is currently importing most of the raw materials we use, which maintains a constant trade deficit since 2002. In 2019 alone, that deficit amounted to € 31,000 million.
Although mining activities has growth exponentially in recent years around the globe, they have remained constant in Europe, or have even notably declined, as it is the case with coal and lignite mining. This implies that the EU now represents a much smaller part of the global mining industry than a few decades ago.
In this regard, the European mining industry claims that it does not operate on equal terms with respect to international competition. There is also great concern that many of the essential raw materials for Europe come from parts of the world that lack political and economic stability.
Given this situation, the EU is willing to commit to the best possible strategy: investing in innovation and high environmental standards as our main competitive advantages. The high costs of introducing innovative technologies and services in the sector will be offset by increased productivity and efficiency. In this sense, EU companies are at the forefront of innovation in the supply of raw materials.
Since the European Commission adopted the so-called Raw Materials Initiative in 2008, Europe has been better prepared to face the problem of access to raw materials. Only between 2018 and 2020, the Commission has secured more than € 1,000 million for research and innovation projects related to raw materials through the Horizon 2020 program, which gives an idea of the relevance that this topic has acquired for policymakers.
Another source of funding comes from the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), which has funded, since its foundation in 2015, innovation and educational projects on raw materials worth more than € 130 million and has raised external investments to support start -ups worth € 126 million.
The Commission’s support for raw materials and mining projects will be essential in the coming years. Currently, the focus is on collecting accurate information on the available mineral deposits in European territory, not necessarily to open new mines, but also to expand existing mines or operate them more efficiently.