Critical Raw Materials as the EU’s strategic policy


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The European Union is heavily dependent on the importation of critical raw materials (CRMs) for the manufacturing of key technological products. These materials include rare earths, lithium, cobalt, and other minerals that are vital for the production of batteries, electric vehicles, and renewable energy systems. However, the EU’s reliance on these materials has also made it vulnerable to supply chain disruptions and price volatility.

To address these issues, the EU has implemented a comprehensive strategy aimed at securing a sustainable and diversified supply of CRMs. This strategy involves various policy measures, such as promoting the circular economy, encouraging the responsible sourcing of raw materials, and investing in research and innovation. In 2011 the EU has also established a list of 30 CRMs that are considered critical for its economy and has identified potential sources of these materials both within the EU and globally.

The list was then updated in 2014, in 2017, while the latest update occurred in 2020, when the EU added many other CRMs. The 2020 integrated list includes the following CRMs: Antimony, Hafnium, Phosphorus, Baryte, Heavy Rare Earth Elements, Scandium, Beryllium, Light Rare Earth Elements, Silicon metal, Bismuth, Indium, Tantalum, Borate, Magnesium, Tungsten, Cobalt, Natural Graphite, Vanadium, Coking Coal, Natural Rubber, Bauxite, Fluorspar, Niobium, Lithium, Gallium, Platinum Group Metals, Titanium, Germanium, Phosphate rock, and Strontium.

One of the key components of the EU’s CRM strategy is the Raw Materials Initiative, which was launched in 2008. This initiative aims to ensure the sustainable supply of raw materials from both domestic and international sources, while also promoting responsible sourcing practices and reducing the environmental impact of mining and processing activities. In 2020, the EU launched the Critical Raw Materials Alliance (CRM Alliance) to further strengthen its position in the global CRM market. The CRM Alliance is a platform that brings together various stakeholders, including businesses, academia, and civil society, to promote the sustainable and responsible sourcing of CRMs.

The alliance also supports the development of new technologies and business models that can reduce the EU’s reliance on imported CRMs. In terms of its international position, the EU is one of the largest importers of CRMs in the world. According to a report by the European Commission, the EU’s net import dependency for CRMs increased from 31% in 2006 to 98% in 2016. This dependency is particularly high for certain materials, such as lithium, cobalt, and rare earths, which are essential for the production of batteries and other high-tech products. To address this dependency, the EU has been actively seeking to establish partnerships with other countries and regions that have potential sources of CRMs. For example, the EU has signed strategic partnerships with Canada, Australia, and Japan to promote the sustainable and responsible sourcing of CRMs.

African countries, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, are closest EU’s partner in promoting a responsible mining practices and improve the social and environmental impact of mining activities. In addition to these partnerships, the EU has also been investing in research and innovation to develop new technologies and processes that can reduce its reliance on imported CRMs. For example, the EU has been funding research into the development of alternative materials, such as graphene and other nanomaterials, that can replace traditional CRMs in certain applications. Lastly, the EU has also been investing in the development of recycling technologies that can recover CRMs from end-of-life products and waste streams. 

Written by: Nenad Stekić

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