MINING IS ESSENTIAL TO EUROPE’S INDUSTRIAL RENAISSANCE: THE EU MUST ACT TO MAINTAIN THE COMPETITIVENESS OF ITS INDUSTRIES
The European Union‘s Economic Policy is essentially an economic growth policy – and rightly so. The EU has suffered the worst recession since its existence after having already seen a widening competitiveness and innovation gap open up between itself and its major trading partners.
Mining, being subject to its own economic cycles, has also been affected by the crisis and is equally in need of policy measures to ensure that it contributes as much as it can to renewed growth in Europe. Mining already helps ensure the employment of some 30 million people in Europe. The still strong demand for metals and minerals arising from the emergence of new industrialised economies in other parts of the world means that mining - as a sector - is even better placed to provide the kind of investment, jobs, training, government revenues, valuable materials, wealth creation and tradable goods that the EU policy is looking for.
The EU should no longer sacrifice economic or strategic interests for the sake of ″free trade″ - particularly in the area of raw materials, but should insist on free and fair trade. Creating a more solid and predictable network of raw-materials supply is essential for manufacturing industries to produce their tradable goods and services. Providing better conditions for mining in Europe can decrease dependence on imported raw materials and therefore make the EU a stronger, more reliable trading partner. Free and fair trade should be promoted and all legislative proposals properly assessed for undesirable impacts on raw material supply, recognising both geological and social conditions in each Member State properly in order to improve access to raw materials for all.
Comprehensive EU and national industrial policies are needed that address resources, technology, manufacturing, expertise, indeed all steps in the value chain in order to achieve industry 4.0. Such a strategy needs to be supported with evidence-based policies - not driven by principles but by impact assessment. These strategies need to be developed in a global context and anticipate other nations’ policies.
THE EU SHOULD ATTRACT THE NECESSARY INWARD INVESTMENT
Mining in Europe makes it possible to meet the EU’s minimum demand for metals & minerals to upgrade and maintain infrastructure; ensure that urbanisation is resource-efficient; deploy new sustainable technologies; care for the increasing number of elderly people, and connect with growth markets outside of the EU through export. Additionally, it can and does enable provision of health, child-care, housing and energy supplies to its host communities.
Europe’s high-tech mines serve as examples to other facilities in the world in terms of safety, energy efficiency and general operating efficiency. Yet, the mining industry’s ability to contribute to an economically stronger Europe is currently being constrained by Europe itself. Access to deposits, access to skilled labour, access to competitively priced energy are some of the things we expect European economic policy to deliver – for the long-term good of the European Union.
Whether we want to access primary or secondary raw materials, access to risk capital will remain a challenge and could be facilitated by a European investment facility for exploration, mining and waste management operations.
CHANGING FROM CRITICAL RESOURCES TO STRATEGIC RESOURCES
A strategic approach to economic development is based on two key elements: natural resources and human resources, ensuring human wellbeing in our societies. Access to both will be vital if the EU wishes to ensure the wellbeing of its population in the coming decades.
Different states have defined “strategic” differently and the EU has hitherto limited its considerations deliberately to “critical” resources. It has conducted several studies in order to identify the EU’s mineral potential in terms of primary and secondary resources. Most of the currently available criticality assessments have been based on an analysis of the availability of raw materials for and from the current economic situation. Considerable work still needs to be done to turn this into a truly strategic approach. Partnerships between producer and user countries in the EU therefore should be forged with greater urgency.
The concept of circular economy seeks to provide a holistic approach to resource management by strengthening the idea of making the “best” out of natural capital, but it does not yet include the concepts of Material Banks and the temporary use of land with its return to future use. This is of growing importance when closing current and future mines and making use of old waste disposal sites.
Whilst in the past the prevention of waste in general was a priority issue, the focus should be turned from turning waste into resources which is also a theme of the EU’s Circular Economy Policy. However, access to resources can currently be constrained by legal hindrances in the form of negative legacies such as environmental liabilities linked to accessing old sites and their materials. Thus the potential for revitalising at older mining regions and providing new resources remains underdeveloped. Such legal hindrances need to be reconsidered in today’s light. An integral approach to a new mine and old waste management is the best and most economic and environmentally sound approach.
INNOVATION AND TRANSITION TO INDUSTRY 4.0
The European Innovation Partnership (EIP) is a new approach to EU research and innovation. By bringing together actors from across the entire value chain, it aims to streamline efforts and accelerate the market take-up of innovations that address the main challenges being faced in the EU.
Under current circumstances, the Europe 2020 target on R&D is unlikely to be met by 2020. European research and innovation are held back by fragmentation and inadequate framework conditions. There is not enough collaboration between the public and private sectors and the innovation gap is widening in Europe. Innovation stimulus in the mining sector, e.g. funding of research on mining techniques, will continue to be important after 2020. Investments into mining sector technologies are long-term by definition.
The importance of the EIT Raw Materials cannot be underestimated since it brings together an otherwise fragmented community that has been under pressure in the economic crisis and which can deliver enhanced education and training as a vehicle to improve competitiveness and business creation.
The continuation of EU support under Horizon2020 and its successive programmes as well as support from national RTD funding will be crucial to deliver innovation across the sector.
Euromines is the European representation of the extractive industry. The organisation represents 42 different metals and minerals being mined in Europe and abroad and companies employing 350,000 people in Europe. Its membership also includes technology providers for the extractive industry.