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EU to secure supply of critical materials for defence industry

The European Commission has published a new policy document which stresses the importance of securing a reliable supply of critical raw materials for the defence industry, reports David Hay Jones for the metal news website, Metal Pages.

“Many of these materials, like the rare earths and germanium, are essential inputs for defence-related applications such as laser targeting,” said the European Commission in its roadmap report, ‘A New Deal for European Defence’, that is aimed at building a more competitive and efficient defence and security sector.

The article added that the Commission has said that it will screen raw materials critical for the defence sector, with its analysis to be finalised by mid-2015.

The roadmap report identified four objectives: building an internal market for defence; securing supply of materials; devising an action plan for defence-related research; and industrial policy aimed at European defence industry competitiveness.

The measures are intended to strengthen the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (ECSDP).

“This is the first explicit recognition of critical materials in any EU policy and will likely set a precedent for other industrial policies as well,” said Heleen Vollers of Brussels-based consultancy Ridens, which monitors EU critical minerals policy, and supports this website.

In May 2014, the European Commission published a list of 20 critical materials: antimony, beryllium, borates, chromium, cobalt, coking coal, fluospar, gallium, germanium, indium, magnesite, magnesium, natural graphite, niobium, phosphate rock, platinum group metals (PGM), heavy rare earth elements (HREE), light rare earth elements (LREE), silicon metal, and tungsten.

Supply risks are associated with many of these materials. In 2012 China accounted for 92% of the EU’s unwrought and powdered antimony imports. Vietnam provided three percent, Kyrgystan two percent, and Russia two percent.

For heavy rare earths, China accounted for 99% of global production in 2010-2012. China accounted for 41% of all rare earth imports in 2012, and Russia 35%.

With the Russia-Ukraine crisis, this supply risk is a major cause for EU concern. On June 29, EU leaders joined the presidents of Ukraine and Russia for talks as the truce between separatists and government forces neared its end.

Commenting on the roadmap report, EU commissioner Antonio Tajani said, “The European Council recognised that defense collaboration between member states needed to be deeper. It is vital that the European defence industry remains a world-leading centre for manufacturing and innovation.”


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