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Op-ed | President of the Consultative Commission on Industrial Change at the European Economic and Social Committee: Without critical raw materials resilience, there will be no green or digital industrial revolution

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© EESC

Opinion by  Pietro Francesco De Lotto, President of the Consultative Commission on Industrial Change at the European Economic and Social Committee

Whether we are talking about a fourth, fifth, or even sixth industrial revolution, we often see public debate take place. Despite the different views on the issue, one thing we can say with certainty is that our industry is undergoing a profound revolution, which comprises a twin challenge: becoming greener and more circular, as well as going through a digital transformation. It is a revolution that is driven by several factors: our commitments under the Paris Agreement, the pursuit of global competitiveness, the need to adapt labour markets, consumer sensitivity and, last but not least, public opinion.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals and the fight against climate change are clearly essential pillars of the EU’s action, and we need to ensure that they are perceived and experienced more and more as an opportunity rather than a burden by all parts of society and industry. The European Green Deal, the Circular Economy Action Plan, the recently updated New Industrial Strategy for Europe, the Fit for 55 package presented in July, and the related activities and legislation are essential tools to transform public debates into an everyday reality, everywhere in Europe, leaving no one behind in this collective effort.

Raw materials, and especially critical raw materials, are at the core of this process. Digitalising and greening EU industries and society require technologies that depend on raw materials. Wind power, for instance, comes from turbines that contain, among other materials, rare earth elements. The EU relies almost 100% on China to supply such elements. Similar scenarios exist for many technologies that are essential to the green and digital transition, from batteries to photovoltaics, from robotics to fuel cells. The EU Critical Raw Materials Action Plan and the Updated Industrial Strategy identify 30 materials and 137 products respectively that are essential for our industry and society and on which the EU is highly dependent.

These are worrying figures, but they also provide a necessary reality check. The past few months have brought these dependencies to the public’s attention even more clearly, as the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the need for EU industry and society overall to become more resilient and strategically autonomous, especially in areas such as vaccines, medicines and medical devices. The time to act on these critical factors is therefore ripe, and we must make use of all instruments to address our dependencies with a strategic vision.

The Commission’s Action Plan on Critical Raw Materials, on which the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) recently published its opinion CCMI 177, is a good instrument that combines measures to fix current shortcomings with actions to mitigate possible future problems. The EESC believes that the actions envisaged by the European Commission are essential if we are to maintain and strengthen the EU’s industrial base. This is a very important first point: for too long, we have left this issue up to the free market and industry, hoping that it would regulate itself. We must however now acknowledge that, as much as companies should be free to build their supply chains, we need to secure some parts of these chains that we deem of strategic importance to the European Union.

More specifically, the EU needs support instruments for sustainable primary sourcing in Europe. Financial instruments for sustainable projects, as well as streamlined authorisation processes are needed, as is the greater involvement of and public acceptance by citizens and local communities. This is also very much linked to the need to maintain extractive and processing capacities in the EU. We need to support workers and regions through better training and a deeper link with higher and vocational education, including investment in training and retraining workers, and in the teaching of specialist disciplines such as geology, metallurgy and mining, even at undergraduate level.

At the same time, and this is the second point, we need to invest in activities that can foster substitution; something that will only be possible with significant, constant investment in R&D programmes to discover new materials and processes for ensuring justified substitution.

Together with primary sourcing and substitution, the third key element is that of circular reuse and secondary sourcing from waste. To do this, we need to invest in research and development, but we also need to carefully assess the waste we ship outside Europe, while at the same time mapping – as soon as possible – the potential supply of secondary critical raw materials from EU stocks and waste.

As for the external dimension, the EU needs to diversify its trading relations, while supporting developing countries. These two objectives go hand in hand, as our efforts should be aimed at forging strategic partnerships with like-minded nations in a multilateral framework, which can both help avoid supply disruptions for EU industry and contribute to the well-being and development of developing third countries. In this regard, there are three very specific elements to be underlined: the mutual advantages of integrating the Western Balkans countries into the EU supply chain; the urgent need for an increased role for the Euro in critical raw materials trading and the need to take greater account of the ethical dimension when drawing up Europe’s critical raw materials list.

Overall, we want to see EU industry flourish in a green and digital way, but we do not want to see our industry and society shift from one dependency (for instance on certain fossil fuels) to another full reliance on certain critical raw materials. To avoid this, and to ensure that the green and digital transitions increase resilience, competitiveness and social justice, we need to invest in research and development, sustainable domestic mining exploration, recovering valuable materials from waste, training and retraining a skilled workforce and creating a multilateral level playing field. This is essential in order to ensure that the green and digital revolutions are successful and benefit EU industry and society as a whole, and do not leave any worker, region and country of the world behind.

Pietro Francesco De Lotto

President of the Consultative Commission on Industrial Change at the European Economic and Social Committee

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MEP Vasile Blaga: EPP Group adopted a position paper on solutions to fight inflation and rising energy prices

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© Vasile Blaga / Facebook

MEP Vasile Blaga (PNL, EPP) presented for CaleaEuropeană.ro a series of EPP solutions to the crisis generated by inflation and uncontrolled energy price rises, following his participation in a meeting of the European People’s Group in Athens.

The MEP reports that an EPP Group position paper was adopted on the solutions the European People’s Party is proposing to the European Commission to combat inflation, rising energy prices and the cost of living.

  • In the fiscal area, the EPP group proposes that the Commission create the conditions for Member States to introduce new temporary exemptions or reductions in energy taxes and excise duties to mitigate the negative impact on households and businesses. The group also recommends, in the event of a prolonged crisis, exempting basic foodstuffs from VAT in order to reduce the daily living costs of citizens.
  • The EPP Group calls for the use of voluntary joint procurement of energy products to reduce prices in negotiations and ensure security of supply for all Member States.
    In the area of the energy market, the EPP Group supports the Commission’s proposals for an emergency temporary cap on market revenues from the sale of electricity, as a gesture of temporary solidarity aimed at reducing energy costs for households and businesses.
  • In parallel with these emergency measures, the EPP Group supports accelerating investment in renewable energy production units, energy efficiency, but also infrastructure, especially in cross-border projects to avoid future energy shocks to the EU economy. On the installation of renewables, especially for households, Member States must strive for de-bureaucratisation – removing administrative barriers and simplifying permitting.
  • In this respect, the installation of rooftop solar panels, heat pumps and small wind turbines across the Union needs to be stepped up to reduce gas consumption. All administrative barriers should be simplified or removed and significant subsidy schemes should be made available by Member States.
  • Last but not least, the EPP Group calls for more support for renovations. Major renovations, such as insulating buildings, involve high costs that most households cannot afford. The EPP Group therefore calls for easier access to bank loans for homeowners.

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CoR: Newly elected chair of COTER Commission, Emil Boc will focus his mandate on efficient use of EU budget and cohesion funds

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© EPP Group CoR/ Twitter

Emil Boc, Mayor of Cluj-Napoca and former Prime Minister of Romania, was elected chair of the European Committee of the Regions’ commission for Territorial Cohesion Policy and EU Budget (COTER) for a mandate of  two and a half years, according to a press release of EPP-CoR Group.

Emil Boc (RO/EPP) has been a member of the CoR since 2019 and was rapporteur of many opinions on topics related to education, such as the European Education Area, the European Strategy for Universities, and how the EU is addressing the brain drain challenge. In his new role as chair of the COTER Commission, Mr Boc will focus his political activity on the use of the EU budget and cohesion funds, the decarbonisation of transports and the start of a forward-looking reflection to secure a strong and efficient cohesion policy also in the future.

Emil Boc commented on his election saying: “As COTER chair, one of my biggest priorities is to make sure that we will have an efficient sustainable and qualitative implementation of the current cohesion programmes and a strong cohesion policy in the future. We will dedicate a lot of attention to the upcoming debates. I will meet soon with the EU Commissioner for Cohesion Policy and Reforms Elisa Ferreira to discuss about our Joint Action Plan: we have to work closely with the Commission on how to provide the necessary support for local and regional authorities to speed up the implementation.”

He added that: “There are many EU Funds that are linked to Cohesion directly or indirectly and this impacts negatively the capacity of regional and local beneficiaries to use the EU in general and the Cohesion Fund in particular. Concrete support is needed from the European Commission and Member States national governments in boosting the administrative capacity of regional and local authorities as main beneficiaries of the Cohesion Policy.”

Addressing the members of COTER Commission he highlighted: “I want to ensure that our work as COTER and institution has a real impact in our territories, and that no region is left behind, no matter the size, demographic or geographic challenges. We must work together with all EU institutions and make sure that the voice of cities and regions and of our citizens is heard”. Cohesion is not a technicality but a political principle, it is the glue that keeps Europe united. The democratic future of Europe depends on the future of Cohesion policy. Especially in these difficult moments we need cohesion and solidarity to be able to properly and efficiently respond to our citizen’s needs.”

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MEP Vasile Blaga: I hope that Romania’s handling of the war crisis will be the last argument in favour of Schengen accession

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© Vasile Blaga

MEP Vasile Blaga (PNL, EPP) said, after the visit of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) to Romania, that he hopes that the way our country has managed the crisis generated by the war in Ukraine will be the “last argument” in favour of Romania’s political decision to join the Schengen area. 

The MEP drew three conclusions from last week’s LIBE Committee mission to Romania.

According to Vasile Blaga, Romania has proved to be a model for the countries neighbouring the conflict between Russia and Ukraine – “a model of administrative capacity to manage the refugee crisis”, but also “a model of solidarity of Romanian citizens in the face of the tragedy of people from the neighbouring country who were forced to cross our border”.

He also mentioned the area of NGOs, whose contribution has been “at least significant, if not vital” in this crisis.

”The second conclusion relates to the continued need for EU funding for the countries affected by the crisis in Ukraine, including Romania. From the European Parliament, together with my colleagues, we will continue to press for more financial aid – both for the humanitarian area and for the economic sectors severely affected by the war on our borders”, added the MEP. 

The last conclusion mentioned by the MEP was related to Romania’s accession to the Schengen area.

“The management of this crisis at Romania’s border highlights once again the technical capabilities that our country possesses and demonstrates for the thousandth time to the whole European area that putting Romania’s integration into the Schengen area in brackets all these years is a serious mistake and a great injustice done to both our country and Bulgaria and I hope that the way Romania has managed the crisis generated by the war in Ukraine will be the last argument in favour of the political decision to join Schengen”, Vasile Blaga said for CaleaEuropeana.ro.    

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