Raw Materials for Europe’s survival

Europe is rich in natural resources and the extraction and supply of minerals continue to play a crucial role in the European economy and society as it has done for thousands of years. To a large extent, demand for the wide range of minerals produced in the EU is strongly influenced by the business cycle of downstream sectors, such as the construction and steel-making sectors. In this respect, the industry differs from many other forms of manufacturing.

“Europe 2020 articulates an aim to return to Europe’s leading role in industrial production. Raw materials are essential to that and more, to Europe’s very survival as one of the world’s leading economies” says Mr. Rachovides, President of Euromines.

Our citizens’ prosperity, our ability to invest, our very future as expressed most profoundly by the terrible difficulties faced by ordinary people in several Member States today, depends on the success of our economic recovery and without mining that is not possible.

The EU is a major exporter and major importer of products and goods and much of its wealth depends on this trade. It would be fatal to believe that it could be self-sufficient and maintain its current standard of living by cutting all of these trade flows and some of them are a quid pro quo, raw materials for products and vice –versa.

Securing reliable and undistorted access to raw materials is a major and growing concern both within the EU and across the globe. As a consequence, the Raw Materials Initiative was instigated to manage responses to raw materials issues at an EU level. This ongoing process requires constant inputs from the industry and here Euromines represents the voice of the European mining industry.

What was addressed in the Raw Materials Communication in 2008 and 2011 is the fact that there are a few raw materials which are not widely spread and where due to economic and other developments a problem of accessibility could occur and hinder the European economy.

Hence the aim is not to reduce import dependency over all, but for certain raw materials that have been identified as “critical”.

For more than eight years, Euromines has been an active partner in the preparation, implementation and promotion of the Raw Materials Initiative strategy which sets out targeted measures to secure and improve access to raw materials for the EU. Based on a three-pillar approach, it aims at improving access to raw materials for Europe.

“Along these lines it is very important to also see the interdependency of the three “pillars”. Investment into new technologies and new operations only makes sense if the framework conditions are right and vice-versa. If you want to diversify the resource base in Europe you also need to ensure that the international markets and dominant players are not jeopardising the investments by unfair trade practices.  Recognising China a free market economy for example is one of these moves which could jeopardise a number of investments made lately in Europe” explains Dr. Corina Hebestreit, Director of Euromines.

Innovation Leader

European mining companies and technology companies are playing an increased global role in securing access to raw materials. EU mines are among the most efficient in the world and are at the forefront of innovation in raw-materials supply.

“We strive for a robust and reliable and legal framework for mining in all of the EU Member States, to promote new investment in exploration and knowledge, o continue research and technology development, to show the world how to mine deeper, smaller and more complex deposits successfully” says Mr. Rachovides.

There is big potential for EU leadership in technology for all aspects of resource management (exploration, extraction, processing, reprocessing, reuse, recycling, recovery and design). Additionally, EU mining provides raw materials for numerous greenhouse gas mitigation applications, such as for wind and solar energy farms. High-strength metals help build lighter cars with lower emissions. This is inevitable to achieve the goal of industry input of 20% of GDP in 2020. Growth of efficient industrial production – including mining - must be welcomed within the EU.

The European Innovation Partnership (‘EIP’) on Raw Materials is an important exercise in building on Europe’s strengths. Our companies lead the world in modern mining and technology and deploy them worldwide. We are an example of a modern, responsible, sustainable and transparent industry. By enabling the mining industry to grow in the EU it will be possible to stimulate innovation in technologies and products that consolidate EU’s leadership in resource and energy efficiency.

Horizon 2020, the European Commission’s research funding programme, has kicked in with considerable research funding for the raw materials research sector in many ways. The Technology Pillar of the EIP is triggering a series ofcalls in the areas of Raw materials research and innovation coordination, technologies for primary and secondary raw materials' production and substitution of raw materials.

For the moment Horizon 2020 has a whole range of tenders/calls for research projects supporting the raw materials supply and use to support modern exploration, resource efficient resource processing and sustainable use of resources.

Till 2020 there will still be a range of pilot actions and many more projects that will hopefully yield major break-through to increase sustainable supply from European resources.

A number of EU activities on raw materials should lead to policy conclusions that might well include recommendations for research and innovation measures.

Next Steps

Well in advance of the next programming cycle after Horizon 2020 these conclusions should lead to recommendations for future investments into research related to raw materials” highlights Mrs. Hebestreit.

According to the latest visions developed by Commissioner Carlos Moedas the Commission wants to develop a research and innovation agenda with more open and international cooperation.

The Commission is currently reflecting on more “Open Science”, a systematic change in the modus operandi of science and research. This, however, should apply mostly to research and innovation that is pre-competitive. Industrial and economic competitiveness cannot be achieved if such research is made available for everybody. This should be kept in mind.

Society’s Recognition of Raw Materials

Minerals and metals represent the basis for our lives and any industrial production process. They provide everyday products and new solutions for modern infrastructure and technologies. The European mining industry actively promotes society’s recognition that access to and use of mineral resources is integral to sustainable development for present and future generations.

Though the mining industry brings high socio-economic benefits to the EU, this does not necessarily make the public outside of mining regions aware of mining. A better understanding of mining could result in increased societal returns from mining operations and make administration less burdensome for mining investors.

The public opinion on mining and quarrying varies considerably across Europe and depends on the level of knowledge about raw materials and whether they have been actually exposed to mining and quarry operations. It is probably fair to say that most people in Europe are rarely conscious of the amount of raw materials that go into the daily products they use and the dependency of food and water quality on raw materials being used. Communities that are linked and related to modern mining and quarrying areas tend to be a lot more positive than those that are very far removed from these industrial activities. It is a human condition to be scared and uneasy with things you do not know and whilst we used to have many more mining reasons in Europe, today large parts of the population live far away from it.

What is surprising is that the population tends to accept products imported from elsewhere as long as they are affordable and do not question their origins, whilst they are very concerned with local extraction.

Part of the European population is also still confronted with the old, abandoned sites from the times when Europe was separated. In the follow-up of the accession of these Eastern European countries there were no funds available for rehabilitation of the old abandoned sites. And hence the landscape is left scarred. Today, all operating mines and quarries have a legal obligation to rehabilitate the sites and bring them back into use as agreed with the local communities. Therefore such scarring of the landscape will not be the case in the future.

The current Industrial Policy of the EU calls for a focus on access to capital, skills, raw-materials and innovation. In particular, the importance of ensuring affordability and availability of raw-material supplies to European businesses has been recognised as necessary for remaining globally competitive.

The mining industry has a lot to offer to the industrial renaissance of Europe. The EU extractive industry is a vital subsector of the EU. It provides raw materials and products that are indispensable to a vast array of uses, including construction, metallurgy, defence, human nutrition, pharmaceuticals, fertilisers, animal feed, environmental protection and restoration and a wealth of other industrial applications.

“New EU policy initiatives deserve our participation and support. We must be part of shaping their outcomes. Innovation, research and resource efficiency are themes at the core of what we do. We are long-term investors, creating jobs and skills and paying taxes, often in the regions of Europe that need them most” adds Mr. Rachovides.


Authors: Mr. Rachovides, President of Euromines and Dr. Corina Hebestreit, Director of Euromines.

Source: BCMG, Annual Newsletter 2015

Become a sponsor