The European Commission will promise tougher action against foreign countries hoarding valuable metals, as well as more recycling at home, in a bid to secure Europe’s supplies of raw materials.
The paper is to be published next week (26 January – see Page 1) in the name of the European Commission president José Manuel Barroso, and its long-delayed release is drawing interest from business lobbies and environmental and development campaigners.
Adrian van den Hoven of BusinessEurope, the employers’ federation, said that the EU had to recycle more of its own waste to keep the valuable materials. A lot of recyclable material was, he said, going to “backyard recycling operations” in developing countries that operated “in a very environmentally unfriendly way.” “It would be wiser to recycle these materials in Europe,” he said.
That view was echoed by Bridget Cosgrave, the director-general of DigitalEurope, who said further research was needed to make the most of “the treasures in the urban mines”.
“Member states have a responsibility to ensure that they manage e-waste within their territories so that the valuable raw materials are recycled and the remaining waste is treated in an environmentally friendly way,” she said.
Van den Hoven said that the EU had to confront trade-distorting measures and ensure open markets for raw materials. But development campaigners warn that the paper is serving European interests at the expense of low-income countries. Bas Bijlsma, a policy officer at the Dutch Institute for Southern Africa (NIZA), a development NGO, said the paper was “aggressively focused on removing all trade barriers that exist” and was putting the EU in a position that was “much stricter than the WTO”.
David Hachsfeld, a policy office for Oxfam, said that there was a “very problematic mention” of the generalised system of preferences (GSP), saying that the EU should close the GSP to all countries that have export taxes. “That’s saying we should use a development instrument to serve our European raw materials interest,” he said.
The focus on mining could alarm some environmentalists. Stéphane Arditi of the European Environmental Bureau, said: “The critical materials are not EU located, so domestic mining may not help solve the resources scarcity problem, but it could really undermine the biodiversity protection if Natura 2000 [EU nature conservation] sites are becoming extraction lands.”
Michelle Wyart-Remy at the Industrial Minerals Association Europe, which represents minerals mining in Europe, said that there was “no incompatibility between protecting nature and mining” – a line contained in recently published Commission guidelines on mining.
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