Speech by Vice-President Šefčovič at the launch of the European Raw Materials Alliance

Source: European Commission (EC) i, published on Tuesday, September 29 2020.

Ladies, Gentlemen,

It is no coincidence that the launch of this Alliance is the number one action on the ten-point list under the recently adopted Action Plan on Critical Raw Materials. The reason is simple - our collective efforts are the only way to succeed.

And we have no choice but to succeed. Yes, today, we are laying the foundation stone of the European Raw Materials Alliance. But the actions taken under this Alliance will have defining effects throughout Europe's economy as well as for its global position.

With the transition to a climate-neutral and digital society, our reliance on available fossil fuels risks to be replaced with reliance on non-energy raw materials, for which global competition is becoming more intense.

This has been exacerbated by the pandemic and related disruptions in global value chains. Therefore, we must change our approach to CRMs, reduce our dependency and strengthen security of supply. To this effect, the Action Plan on CRMs - together with the Circular Economy Action Plan - is an integral part of our recovery and resilience strategy.

Let me focus on two areas: first, what strategic foresight tells us; second, the lessons learned from the EU Battery Alliance.

What strategic foresight tells us

Many strategically important industrial ecosystems in the EU depend on a reliable and sustainable supply of raw materials at competitive costs. This includes renewable energy, digital, electronics, mobility (automotive and beyond), construction as well as aerospace and defence.

The demand for primary and secondary raw materials is likely to rise. For example, according to some scenarios linked to the green and digital transitions, Europe 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 critical for products like wind generators electro-mobility solutions, batteries, radars and robots could increase up to ten-fold in the same period.

And on rare earths, we know we are almost exclusively dependent on China, despite interesting deposits in Europe (in France, Germany, Portugal, Spain, Sweden or in Greenland and Norway) as well as despite a huge recycling and re-use potential.

Foresight is a call for action. Bold action to accelerate alternative pathways with much higher resource efficiency, innovation and substitution, together with a mainstreaming of recycling and second use. Integrated action to also look “beyond growth” at policy objectives that embrace sustainable jobs creation, environmental and health protection, quality education etc. - all major features of people's wellbeing.

As a part of our first Strategic Foresight Report, we have started to look closely at Member States' wide-ranging vulnerabilities and capacities in relation to raw materials.

We also propose to discuss prototype dashboards to jointly assess the progress in material demand, import dependence, criticality, trade, public awareness, resource efficiency, circularity, substitution and innovation. I hope all members of the Alliance will join us in this exercise.

How the EU and the Member States can mitigate these vulnerabilities, boost our capacities and seize related opportunities will be key to strengthening our resilience.

Let me illustrate on the recycling rate of e-waste - something among strengths across many Member States. Every year, the EU generates some 9.9 million tonnes of waste electrical and electronic equipment. Around 30 percent is collected and recycled.

But the recovery of the critical raw materials from this e-waste stands below 1 percent. Exploiting these urban mines - that is, recovering raw materials from urban waste through recycling - could eventually satisfy a large share of the EU's demand for critical raw materials.

Lessons drawn from the EU Battery Alliance

As Thierry mentioned, the Raw Materials Alliance will mobilise industrial and innovation actors, Member States, regions, the EIB, investors, social partners and civil society - in order to help build our capacities along the entire value chain, from mining to waste recovery.

The task will indeed be to identify bottlenecks, opportunities and investment cases or projects that should be operational by 2025. But beyond that, the challenge is to substantially leverage the EU's strategic autonomy, our participation and position in global value chains.

If you allow me, I would like to draw a few takeaways from the European Battery Alliance that I believe, could serve us here today.

In the battery field, we were starting practically from scratch, but in three years have managed to move from laggard to frontrunner. Suffice to mention:

  • In 2019, investment in Europe reached EUR 60 billion (three times more than in China);
  • In 2020 to date, level of investments in Europe has reached EUR 25 billion (twice as much as in China);
  • Europe is well on track to become the second (after China) manufacturer of the lithium-ion battery cell by 2024, overtaking the US and the rest of Asia;
  • Thanks to the Business Investment Platform (facilitating the matchmaking under the EBA), we are moving from covering 3% to 80% of our battery-related needs for lithium by 2025.
  • And with the upcoming Battery Regulation proposal, we will address responsible and sustainable sourcing of raw materials for batteries.

As many of you, participating actively in the EBA, know (namely Ministers Peter Altmaier, Jadwiga Emilewicz or Mika Lintila), this did not happen with a business-as-usual approach. We had to be disruptive and work at the speed of light, relentlessly.

The Commission is ready to the same with the Raw Materials Alliance - starting with rare earths and magnets.

I can think of three EBA key success factors, which might guide our discussions today:

  • First key success factor: collaboration is our strength

This means building a joined-up agenda between the EU, national and regional levels - with public and private cooperation or partnerships at its core - to support a portfolio of flagship projects.

I believe that also here, in the field of CRMs, we can establish a trusted, agile and inclusive ecosystem that will involve industrial actors across the value chains as well as other key stakeholders representing civil society and trade unions. EIT RawMaterials will play a key role in this process and I trust Bernd Schaefer will tell us more.

We will of course need to maintain our strategic partnership with the European Investment Bank (I am glad its Vice-President Amboise Fayolle is here with us today) as well as to set up swiftly an investment platform to crowd in private investment.

  • Second key success factor: sustainability and resilience as our main compass and our competitive advantage, i.e. “competitive sustainability”

As we have done with the European Battery Alliance, we need to be able combine the objective of strong environmental standards with increased competitiveness across value chains, as well as the creation of sustainable jobs and growth. Repair and materials recovery provide 2.2 million jobs, a number that is growing.

Today, we are largely dependent on unsustainable raw materials from countries with much lower environmental and social standards, less freedoms or unstable economies. This has to change.

  • Third key success factor: we have to agree on a shared ambitious goals and vision

What should be our 2030 objectives in terms of processed and recycled / re-used primary and secondary raw materials (focusing primarily on rare earths and magnets)? What size of the market should we aim to capture by 2025-2030? What global partnerships should we forge?

I can assure you that Commissioner Breton and myself will spare no effort in mobilising our strategic resources and utilising our convening and enabling powers to make this a success.

But I cannot stress enough that this is our joint venture. We are all partners in this. So we want you to tell us today what you will bring to this Alliance and what you expect from the other actors around this table so that, as I said at the start, we do succeed.

Thank you!