Critical raw materials for the EU: Enablers of the green and digital recovery

Briefing 18-12-2020

The pandemic has highlighted the risk involved, including for the EU, in relying heavily on external suppliers. The EU's 30 critical raw materials (CRMs) combine two characteristics: they are strategically important for its industry and economy, and there are high risks associated with securing their supply. The notion of strategic autonomy, which has been gaining track recently, calls for a more autonomous and independent EU policy, also in the area of CRMs. Importantly, the core of the EU's response to the pandemic has been to use it to transform its economy and society. The twin transition to a green and digital future relies particularly on the safe and diverse supply of CRMs. In its journey to a low-carbon economy, the EU should however make sure it does not replace its reliance on fossil fuels with a reliance on CRMs. While secure access to CRMs has been on the EU agenda for many years, the European Commission has eagerly stepped up its policy in this area since the beginning of its current term, and in September 2020 delivered a new package of measures. These included a new action plan for CRMs that supports initiatives in four main areas: i) developing resilient value chains for EU industrial ecosystems; ii) supporting sustainable and environmentally friendly domestic mining and processing of raw materials in the EU extraction (with priority given to former coal-mining regions); iii) weakening dependency on primary CRMs through better circular use of resources, environmentally friendly products and innovation; and iv) diversifying supply with sustainable and responsible sourcing from third countries. The EU has also launched the European Raw Materials Alliance, joining together the industry, researchers, Member States and civil society to close the main gaps in the value chains. The European Parliament has been a long-standing supporter of boosting all the elements of CRMs value chains to ensure the security of supply and weaken unwanted dependencies.