Mattia Pellegrini is currently Head of Unit for Raw Materials, Metals, Minerals and Forest-based Industries at the European Commission’s Directorate General for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs. Previously, he worked as Head of Cabinet of Commissioner Nelli Feroci and as a Member of the Cabinet of the Vice President of the European Commission, in charge of Enterprise and Industry. Mr. Pellegrini has a Master’s Degree in European Legal Studies obtained at the College of Europe, Bruges, and a postgraduate diploma in EC Law obtained at L.U.I.S.S. “Guido Carli”, University of Rome.
On 26 May 2014, the Commission presented the first revised list of critical raw materials through a Communication on "the review of the list of critical raw materials for the EU and the implementation of the Raw Materials Initiative". The 2014 list now includes 13 of the 14 materials identified in the previous list of 2011, with only tantalum moving out of the list (due to a lower supply risk). Six new materials appeared on the list: borates, chromium, coking coal, magnesite, phosphate rock and silicon metal, bringing the number up to 20 raw materials which are now considered critical by the European Commission. The other 14 raw materials are: antimony, beryllium, cobalt, fluorspar, gallium, germanium, indium, magnesium, natural graphite, niobium, platinum group metals, heavy rare earths, light rare earths and tungsten.
Mr Pellegrini, you are Head of Unit of Raw Materials, Metals, Minerals and Forest-based Industries within the European Commission's Directorate-General for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs. What is your mission?
Within the European Commission, DG for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs, I am in charge of managing the implementation of the “Raw Materials Initiative" (RMI), which is the main instrument at European level dealing with Raw Materials policy. Its aim is to manage raw materials issues at the EU level. This Raw Materials Initiative has three pillars, the first of which is fair and sustainable supply of raw materials from global markets. The second pillar is fostering sustainable supply within the EU. The European Commission has an important role in bringing the Member States together and fostering the exchange of best practice. Finally, the third pillar is about boosting resource efficiency and promoting recycling. In order to reinforce the work carried out under the RMI, the Commission has also set up an expert group — the Raw Materials Supply Group (RMSG). It has representatives from Member States, other EEA countries and candidate countries as well as from organisations representing stakeholder interests from industry, academia, and others. It advises the Commission and oversees the Initiative’s implementation.
Raw materials have been high on the political agenda for a number of years, why is this?
While the importance of energy materials such as oil and gas has often been highlighted, historically the indispensable role of metals and minerals has had a lower profile. During the last decade we have observed a major increase in demand for metals and minerals. Hence it became clear to policy-makers at European and national level that the EU is highly dependent on the production and, of course, also the importation of raw materials. These raw materials are fundamental and a key driver to ensure sustainable growth and competitiveness. They are also one of the keys towards a smooth transition to a low-carbon economy. Most of the wind turbines use magnets which are made from critical raw materials, a classical example of which are the rare earths. This also partially explains why the EU, together with its partners including Japan and the US, has been active in challenging recent export restrictions on raw materials such as rare earths. The EU and its partners have been successful and won both of these cases.
How dependent are we on imports of raw materials from outside the EU?
It really depends on the type of raw materials. The report on Critical Raw Materials for the EU which DG for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs published in May this year confirmed that for the production of construction minerals, for instance, the EU is self-sufficient. The EU also has a large production of industrial minerals supplying a very wide range of industries. For some minerals, such as magnesite, fluorspar, bentonite, kaolin and potash, Europe is an important global producer. However, one should be aware that the EU is also a net importer for many of these industrial minerals.
The report also identified that around 90% of the global supply of 54 raw materials assessed originated from extra-EU sources. This figure included most of the base, speciality and precious metals. It is not a surprise that China is the major supplier for these materials. This is clearly the case, among others, for rare earth elements which are among the most critical raw materials. However, many other countries are also important suppliers of specific materials: South Africa supplies platinum group metals and Brazil - niobium. The EU primary supply across all candidate materials is estimated at around 9%. Europe produces, for instance, copper, lead, silver and zinc but the production is not high enough to supply domestic demand. In the case of critical raw materials, supply from EU sources is even more limited. At the Commission we strongly believe that the potential for the production of (critical) raw materials is largely untapped.
Why does the European Commission publish a list of critical raw materials, what is its purpose?
The list of critical raw materials is a key instrument for policy making and serves as a tool to secure supply of these materials. Through the list, the Commission also intends to focus on the European production of critical raw materials. We want to facilitate the launching of new mining and recycling activities. It is part of our contribution to the implementation of the EU industrial policy and to ensure that European industrial competitiveness is strengthened. This should increase the overall competitiveness of the EU economy, in line with the Commission´s aspiration of raising industry’s contribution to GDP to as much as 20% by 2020. However, it is worth emphasising that all raw materials, even if not classified as critical, are important for the European economy. A given raw material and its availability to the European economy should therefore not be neglected just because it is not classed as critical.
What has been the concrete impact of the list of critical raw materials?
The list is also being used to help prioritise needs and actions. It serves as a supporting element when negotiating trade agreements, challenging trade distortion measures or promoting research and innovation. For instance, under Horizon 2020 several call for proposals contain a reference to "critical raw materials" which implies that applicants are invited to focus – where possible – on those raw materials that are deemed critical. Furthermore, the list is being used as an instrument to raise awareness among policymakers and all relevant stakeholders. Member States are more and more designing national raw materials policies and some of them have been developing their own list of critical raw materials, for which the European list serves as an example. Another example are the universities, we have dedicated budgets to finance PhD students for research on rare earths for instance, which are among the most critical raw materials. We have also noticed that several raw materials commitments under the European Innovation Partnership tackle specific problems related to to the supply of these critical raw materials. For those interested, I am glad to announce that there will be a new Call for Commitments in 2015. All stakeholders are invited to participate.
The study on Critical Raw Materials also contains an annex on sector-specific discussions on critical raw materials which include defence, energy technologies and ICT. Why is that?
For the first time the study on Critical Raw Materials also covered some sector-specific information. This was the case for ICT, energy technologies but also defence. For these sectors, the raw materials that are deemed "critical" can sometimes vary. The Joint Research Centre has done excellent work in identifying raw materials that are critical for the EU energy sector. We have therefore requested the JRC to do the same for the defence sector.
Will there be a follow-up of the list of critical raw materials?
Yes, the European Commission has a political commitment towards the Member States and the European Parliament to come up with a revision of the list of critical raw materials at least every three years. We therefore expect the next list to be ready by 2017. Although we strive at ensuring maximum comparability with the previous list of critical raw materials, we strongly envisage making an assessment of the currently used methodology. The Joint Research Centre (JRC) would be in charge of this exercise. Concretely the JRC would be asked to provide DG for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs with technical assistance, analysis, appropriate data and support for the assessment of the methodology that has been applied for the publication of the list of critical raw materials for the EU in 2011 and 2014. Following this assessment, a refined – and where appropriate – revised methodology could be envisaged for the next revision of the list of critical raw materials. The work would also be closely followed by our specific expert group the "Ad hoc Working Group on Defining Critical Raw Materials for the EU".