The European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS) has issued an in-depth analysis of the key issues and policy areas that will most likely occupy the political agenda of the European Union in 2021. CRMs are ranked seventh, marking them as a top priority for policy makers this year. CRMs lie at the core of the EU’s objective to build open strategic autonomy. The EPRS report states that the coronavirus outbreak has highlighted the need to reduce Europe’s dependency on global suppliers. CRMs are also considered essential for the green and digital transition. The EU’s objectives regarding CRMs are clear: strengthen domestic supply, enhance circularity and forge sustainable strategic partnerships.
To increase domestic sourcing, the EU plans to boost investments and research how to minimize the environmental impact of mining CRMs. The first mining and processing projects are expected to be operational in 2025. In this regard, former coal-mining regions will be prioritized, where the transfer of mining and engineering skills is a priority under the Just Transition Mechanism. Moreover, in the scope of the Taxonomy Regulation, the European Commission will also develop criteria for sustainable finance to guide investments in the mining, extractive and processing sectors.
With regard to enhancing circularity for CRMs, the EU will focus on waste processing to obtain CRMs. However, the report also shows that the EU will continuously push for substituting CRMs with non-critical materials. The EU and national funding programmes will finance projects that positively contribute to these goals.
When it comes to building sustainable strategic partnerships, the report cites Canada and “interested African countries” as principal trading partners for 2021.
It is clear that CRMs will be at the centre of many discussions and policy developments this year. Although we welcome the EU's renewed interest in CRMs, especially when it comes to boosting domestic supplies and recovering CRMs from waste, we remain cautious about the continuous push for substituting CRMs.