"Ensuring the green and digital transition increases resilience, competitiveness and social justice"

EESC info question: how and by when can the transformation to a greener, more circular and more digital industry be achieved, reaching the objectives of the European Commission's Green Deal? What role do raw materials play in this process?

Pietro Francesco De Lotto, CCMI president: whether we are talking about a fourth, fifth, or even sixth industrial revolution, we often see public debate emerge. Despite the different views on the issue, the sure thing is that we are undergoing a profound revolution in our industry which comprises a twin challenge: that of becoming greener and more circular as well as a digital transformation. It is a revolution that is driven by several factors: public opinion, consumer sensitivity, pursuit of global competitiveness and a need to adapt labour to new models, etc.

As in all revolutions, the final outcome will be radical change. In our case, this will hopefully mean a European industry that has turned greening and digitalisation into a competitive edge on the global scene. This is a process that has already been happening for several years, but there is a need for public authorities to properly govern this transformation to ensure that its benefits reach every company, every worker and every region of Europe.

The fight against climate change and the Sustainable Development Goals are clearly essential pillars of EU action, but we need to ensure that they are perceived more and more as an opportunity rather than as a burden by all parts of society and industry. The European Green Deal, the Circular Economy Action Plan, the New Industrial Strategy for Europe (and its forthcoming update), and all related activities and legislation are essential tools to transform these debates into an everyday reality, everywhere in Europe, leaving no one behind in this collective effort.

Raw materials, and especially critical raw materials, are at the core of this process. Digitalising and greening EU industries and society requires technologies which, in turn, require raw materials. Just to give an example: wind power comes from turbines that contain, among other materials, rare earth elements. The EU relies almost 100% on China to supply such elements. And similar scenarios exist for many technologies which are essential to the green and digital transition, from batteries to photovoltaics, from robotics to fuel cells. The past months have brought these criticalities to the public's attention even more clearly, as the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the need for EU industry and society overall to become more resilient and strategically autonomous, including in areas such as vaccines, medicines and medical devices.

The Commission's Action Plan on Critical Raw Materials, which was also the object of a recent CCMI/EESC opinion, is a good instrument that combines fixing current shortcomings with actions to prepare for possible future problems.

To answer your question more clearly: we want to see EU industry flourish in a green and digital way, but we do not want to see our industry and society shift from one dependency (for instance on certain fossil fuels) to another full reliance on certain critical raw materials. To avoid this, and to ensure that the green and digital transitions increase resilience, competitiveness and social justice, we need to invest in research and development, sustainable domestic mining exploration, recovering valuable materials from waste and creating a multilateral level playing field. This is essential to ensure that the green and digital revolutions are successful and benefit EU industry and society as a whole.