Commissioner Thierry Breton at the EESC: access to raw materials is becoming a fundamental key to succeed the twin industrial transition

The key role of raw materials was discussed at some length at the high-level conference hosted by the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) on Monday 31 January. The conference focused specifically on two main aspects: the essential role that critical raw materials play in securing EU's open strategic autonomy in EU industry's green and digital transition and the importance of the circularity with the need to create a market for secondary raw materials in Europe.

The conference formed part of the EESC's activities on the Conference of the Future of Europe.

For most raw materials, Europe is heavily dependent on the rest of the world. Europe must lead the way in demonstrating that this industry can be sustainable in environmental and human terms said Christa Schweng, the EESC president, who also stressed the need for strategic partnerships with like-minded countries around the world.

Thierry Breton, the European Commissioner for the Internal Market, addressed the conference through a video message and said, We will need 60 times more lithium by 2050 for electric batteries for vehicles. I have no doubt that the circular economy will become the new modus operandi for raw materials. It will be another crucial tool at our disposal to ensure the security and resilience of our supply chains. The EESC and the European Commission are on the same page.

Agnès Pannier-Runacher, the French Secretary of State for Industry recognised critical raw materials as a key issue for Europe's autonomy in the transition to a green et digital economy putting emphasis on circular economy. The subject of Europe's energy autonomy was one of the priorities of the French presidency of the Council of the European Union. We cannot allow our dependence to shift from fossil fuels to a new dependence on these strategic metals, she said.

The issue of critical raw materials is highly topical and is gaining momentum. The European Parliament adopted its report on the matter on 23 November 2021. The EP rapporteur, Hildegard Bentele, also placed a major spotlight on the importance of critical raw materials in achieving strategic autonomy for EU industry and society and emphasised the great interest of EU Citizens in this matter in the context of the Conference on the Future of Europe.

The European Raw Materials Alliance will also be launching new activity clusters in 2022.

The panellists agreed that Europe must show global leadership in this area by raising its environmental, social and governance standards to unprecedented levels.

The EESC is fully aware of the urgent need to address the issue. The EESC believes that the actions envisaged by the European Commission are essential if we are to maintain and strengthen the EU's industrial base, said the president of the EESC’s Consultative Commission on Industrial Change, Pietro Francesco De Lotto, who chaired the conference.

Following the publication in September 2020 of the Commission's Action Plan on Critical Raw Materials, the EESC has been undertaking work on this issue, which includes its opinion CCMI 177, several follow-up meetings (including cooperation on the European Parliament's own-initiative report on the subject), a webinar and EESC participation in the European Raw Materials Alliance as an observer.

In conclusion, there is a great need for the public institutions to continue to join forces and act and for civil society to continue its involvement in this subject.