The German lawmaker responsible for the Critical Raw Materials Act in the European Parliament, Nicola Beer, said she will scrutinise the necessity for targets on mining, processing and recycling of strategic raw materials in Europe.
While not legally binding, the benchmarks for domestic production capacities are one of the cornerstones of the Critical Raw Materials Act presented by the European Commission on 16 March.
While Beer did not scrap the benchmarks in her draft report published last week due to time constraints, she said one of the big points of the upcoming discussion will be whether the targets should be scrapped altogether.
“We need to do some more mental gymnastics to see whether the 65% mark could be enough to make us independent [in order] to replace the other 10, 15 and 40%,” she told journalists on Wednesday.
“That’s where both my conversations and the discussions inside or outside of the House are ongoing,” added the MEP from Germany’s liberal FDP party.
According to the Commission’s proposal, at least 10% of Europe’s annual consumption of strategic raw materials should come from domestic mining capacity, with targets going up to 15% for recycling and 40% for processing.
At most, 65% of the Union’s annual consumption of any strategic raw material should originate from a single country, Brussels suggested.
While the other three targets aim at supporting a European industry for raw materials extraction, processing and recycling, the 65% benchmark only mandates a diversification of imports.
This is specifically directed at Beijing, which currently holds a quasi-monopoly on some critical raw materials. The EU, for instance, currently imports 93% of its magnesium and 86% of its rare earth metals from China.
Often dubbed the ‘China Clause’, the proposed benchmark does not distinguish between supplier countries for the time being.
“You have to look at who you are dependent on,” said Hildegard Bentele, another German lawmaker speaker on the Critical Raw Materials Act for the Parliament’s centre-right European People’s Party (EPP).
“If you are 80% or 90% dependent on the USA, Australia or Canada, I would classify that as less dramatic than on other states that are not reliable,” she told reporters.
At the same time, Bentele also wants to adjust some of the benchmarks. For instance, the aim to have 40% of processing in Europe would run counter to the EU’s ambition to build a more diverse range of partnerships abroad.
“The 40% processing in the EU would then contradict that we actually want to do that with our partners,” the centre-right MEP said.
The timeline is also a challenge. Beer aims to hold a vote on the Critical Raw Materials Act in Parliament by the summer to finalise negotiations with EU member states before the end of the year.
“We want to have completed the main work by the summer break to ensure that we can complete the negotiations with the Commission and the Council by Christmas,” Beer said.
Beer’s push for urgency also has to do with her nomination as head of the European Investment Bank. Her party head and finance minister in the German liberal FDP, Christian Lindner, nominated her as Vice-President of the Bank in April.
Beer is thus under pressure to finish negotiations on the Critical Raw Materials Act before she heads off to the EIB next year, as otherwise, a new rapporteur would have to be appointed while talks are still ongoing.
[Edited by Frédéric Simon/Alice Taylor]