April 1. 2023. 5:11

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France to push for ‘very ambitious’ EU raw materials diplomacy

France has a “very strong” interest” in “metal diplomacy” and will push for a very ambitious EU Raw Materials Act at a meeting next week that will see foreign ambassadors and industrialists discuss the EU’s and France’s strategy on the matter.

Demand for rare metals is expected to grow exponentially in the coming years, according to Benjamin Gallezot, France’s minister-delegate for the supply of strategic minerals and metals.

Taking lithium as an example, “the needs are expected to be multiplied by 10 by 2040,” Gallezot told lawmakers in the French Parliament’s foreign affairs committee on Wednesday (15 March).

Central to the EU’s energy transition is the need to revisit its strategy for sourcing strategic metals and minerals – ranging from lithium and cobalt to steel and copper.

On Thursday, the European Commission presented its Critical Raw Materials Act (CRMA), setting out aspirational targets to boost domestic capacity, from mining to recycling.

This includes a target to extract “at least 10%” of the EU’s annual consumption of key raw materials on European soil, as well as a 40% target for processing and a 15% target for recycling.

With the Critical Raw Materials Act, the EU is taking a “very important” step, Gallezot told French lawmakers, adding that Paris will “work towards the most ambitious text possible” when the proposal goes to the European Parliament and Council for adoption.

EU unveils Critical Raw Materials Act, aiming to lessen dependence on China

The European Commission unveiled the new regulation on Thursday (16 March), setting targets for the production, refining and recycling of key raw materials needed for the green and digital transitions.

Metals diplomacy

To present France’s position, Energy Minister Agnès Pannier-Runacher and Foreign Trade Minister Olivier Becht “will bring together foreign ambassadors and industrialists next week for discussions on the challenges of strategic metals,” Gallezot said.

Contacted later by EURACTIV, the Energy Minister’s Office confirmed the information, saying it would only reveal the list of guests at the meeting “in due course”.

“Metals diplomacy is a subject of very strong interest for the minister [of energy], in line with her previous functions,” said the cabinet of Pannier-Runacher who was France’s industry minister from 2020 to 2022.

Speaking to lawmakers in the National Assembly, Gallezot also pointed to bilateral relations being “extremely important” in this context, whether with Canada, Australia or Chile.

The minister-delegate insisted particularly on Africa, noting that it is “a major continent in this field”.

France and its public mining research bodies, such as the Geological and Mining Research Bureau, are “working on the inventory of resources, on support and on the economic development” of the continent, Gallezot added, saying his first trip was to South Africa in May 2022 for the Mining Indaba summit when was deputy director at the prime minister’s office.

Speaking on Thursday, a senior EU Commission official confirmed that EU member states will have a role to play in raw materials diplomacy, as part of a wider ‘Team Europe’ approach to relations with foreign countries.

“The Critical Raw Materials Act includes a board, which will help with governance and coordination. And one of the tasks of the board is to look indeed in the coordination of our strategic partnerships – like we have with Canada, Namibia, or Ukraine,” the official explained.

Another task of the board will be to coordinate efforts from national governments when it comes to raw materials diplomacy. “Not to prevent them from doing anything, but to ensure that somehow the European perspective can also be taken into account and maybe find synergies,” the official said.

EU to introduce targets for raw materials self-sufficiency

The European Commission is considering objectives to increase the EU’s self-sufficiency on key raw materials needed for the green and digital transitions, with targets of up to 30% for some of them, a senior EU official has said.

Strategic dependance

When it comes to countries supplying strategic metals, China still leads the pack.

It controls up to 80% of the refining chains for strategic metals, and well over 90% of them with regards to some metals, Gazellot said.

The European Union depends on non-EU countries for 70-80% of the metals needed for its ecological transition, noted Philippe Varin, former president of the France Industrie trade union, in a report he submitted to the government last year.

According to Gazellot, the EU should reduce raw materials consumption across the board while simultaneously reorienting its supplies.

All of this should lead to an “independence” that would “structure the policy we are pursuing”, he added.

Interviewed by EURACTIV France in January, Varin estimated that if the EU were to “exploits all deposits in Europe” it could achieve “30% autonomy” by 2030.

Former industry CEO: For ecological transition, we must ‘exploit all of Europe’s mines’

The ecological transition requires the revamping of all possible rare earth and metal production capacities across the EU, Philippe Varin, former chairman of the French nuclear fuel cycle group Orano, told EURACTIV in an interview.

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