Italy plans to reopen mines that were closed 30 years ago in a bid to deal with the shortage of critical raw materials in the European Union, Italy’s Made In Italy Minister Adolfo Urso announced on Thursday.
Urso intends to reopen several mines in Italy by the end of the year.
Raw materials such as cobalt, beryllium and graphite are indispensable inputs for a wide range of strategic products such as renewable energy, digital, space and defence, and health. Today, Europe depends almost exclusively on imports, in particular from China, which provides 97% of its needs.
“The risks to which we are exposed are obvious”, Urso said during a hearing in the Senate Industry Committee, explaining that such materials will be increasingly necessary as they are needed for the development and dissemination of technologies helpful in achieving decarbonisation targets in the EU.
Italy has 16 of the 34 critical raw materials the EU is looking to mine, process and recycle, as indicated in the European Commission proposal unveiled in March – however, these mines were closed about 30 years ago.
To those who criticise the decision to reopen the mines, Urso replies that today most of these raw materials come from China, where they are processed after being extracted in countries such as Congo, where cobalt is mined “under the threat of mercenary machine guns”.
“I imagine those who want to defend the environment in our country, also want to defend the environment globally. And those who fight for labour standards in our country also want labour standards to be raised in other countries”, said Urso.
Recycling is useful to cope with the shortage of critical raw materials, but – according to the minister – it is not enough to solve the problem.
“Circularity of materials and increased efficiency can mitigate, to a certain extent, the expected increase in demand but not solve the problem”, Urso clarified. This is true even though Italy is “first in Europe” in recycling and “could reach 40% of demand in 2040”.
In order to make Italy independent and attractive in terms of investment, a document will be published in early August to identify a strategy for the sector. Urso’s goal is to compete with the big microelectronics manufacturers such as Taiwan, South Korea and the US and – to do so – he calls for “trade policy constraints”.
“It is not possible that those who manufacture these products without respecting the same environmental and social standards, which we rightly impose and raise every day in Europe, then export those products with dumping on the European continent. We have to take action on this”, the minister clarified.
“It is better to mine cobalt in Italy than in Congo also to entice others to impose the same social and environmental standards”, he added, betting on a strategy of action that is not only Italian but also and above all European.
In fact, an event on digital technology will be held in Rome on 30 October, where ministers from Italy, France and Germany will meet to discuss the matter and implement a common strategy.