The European Union Affairs Committee (EUAC) of the Riigikogu voted unanimously to give the government a directive not to agree with certain aspects of the European regulation on the extraction of critical raw materials, as it would constitute a threat to Estonia's right to self-determination.
"We have adopted a resolute position that any decision on mining must remain within the jurisdiction of the member state," EUAC chair Liisa-Ly Pakosta (Eesti 200), said, adding that while it is customary to use softer language to express disagreement, the Commission's decision adopted on Friday represents a "head-on collision."
Pakosta explained that she agrees with the act's primary objective, which is to lessen the European Union's reliance on third parties, particularly China, for the electronics industry and for key raw materials necessary for the green revolution.
"If we want to make a green revolution and if we want all these mobile phones, refrigerators, solar panels, wind turbines and everything else, we need an extensive range of critical raw materials, for which the shortage is so severe that even the known reserves of mineral resources do not meet the industry's needs," she said. "The European Commission proposed a regulation on critical raw materials precisely for this reason," she added.
"And there is one very appealing aspect in the raw materials regulation and one aspect where the legislature said 'no way!' An attractive section of the document states that member states should begin collecting items that have already been manufactured but now break-down or become outdated and that we should reuse everything that has already been extracted from the earth and is already in circulation. At present, this does not happen often. And here, the legislature was very enthusiastic that this must be done," she said.
"However, this Critical Raw Materials Act also included a second section. And that second portion states that the European Union will intervene in the manner in which nations obtain mining permits," The chair of the EUAC went on to say.
According to her, the EU has not yet intervened in mining; the member states have been always solely responsible. Pakosta said that it is extremely uncommon for the EU Affairs Committee to adopt such resolute positions and it is noteworthy that representatives of all political parties supported the resolution.
The Environment Committee and the Economic Affairs Committee of the Riigikogu, according to Pakosta, had previously reached the same conclusion.
Ministry promises to follow the guidelines of the Riigikogu
Ene Jürjens, head of the mineral resources department of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications (MKM), said to ERR that the ministry will supplement Estonia's positions in the negotiations on the final text of the act in accordance with the wishes of the Riigikogu committees and will highlight separately the points that the committees deemed necessary.
"Estonia does not agree that EU regulation should impose deadlines on member states," Jürjens said. "We support the initiative to shorten the processing time for mining permits, but we do not agree that deadlines should be imposed on member states."
"We are adding a separate point to Estonia's position to emphasize the significance of each country's right to decide," Jürjens said.
"Also, Estonia emphasizes the significance of incorporating environmental considerations. It is crucial to strike a balance between the development of industries dependent on essential raw materials and environmental concerns," she said.
EU wants to produce or process half of critical raw materials by 2023
Jürjens explained to ERR that the European Commission has proposed that by 2030, at least 50 percent of the EU's consumption of critical raw materials will be produced and processed within the EU. A minimum of one-tenth and a minimum of one-fifth of the critical basic materials consumed annually in EU nations should come from extraction and recycling, respectively.
"This is intended to reduce the EU's dependence on third countries, such as China, where a large proportion of critical raw materials are currently sourced, and increase our economic security," Jürjens said.
She said that the European Commission desires special treatment for strategic initiatives under the Critical Raw Materials Act. Together with the newly founded European Critical Raw Materials Council, the European Commission will identify strategic initiatives. These projects should benefit in the future from a more streamlined and predictable permitting process, which is currently one of the most significant impediments for European mining projects, she said.
Among other things, the objective is to reduce the time required to obtain mining permits. The current procedure for acquiring mining permits can take more than 10 years; the objective is to reduce this to two years.
"Additionally, mines of critical raw materials are viewed as strategically significant locations for which state aid should be possible in the future," she added.
Act could have a major impact on the exploitation of Estonia's mineral resources
According to the draft's explanatory memorandum, the harmonization of mining authorization procedures across EU member states could also have a significant impact on Estonia's mineral resource utilization.
Estonia is a potential source of critical raw materials for the green revolution and the information technology industry, both locally and for the industries of our partner nations. Phosphorus, vanadium and magnesium are critical raw materials extracted in Estonia.
Estonia is home to the largest phosphorus reserves in the European Union. Both the geological exploration and extraction phase (phosphorite) and the refining phase (phosphoric acid) are necessary for the production of phosphogypsum. Phosphate rock and phosphorite are therefore included on the list of critical raw materials.
Phosphogypsum is an associated resource that contains significant amounts of rare earth elements such as praseodymium, neodymium, dysprosium, and terbium; therefore, phosphogypsum may have future potential as a source of rare earth elements.
The explanatory memorandum describes the potential economic benefits, as well as the social impacts, the effects on the national budget, the organization of state and local government institutions, the environment and climate, security and foreign relations.
Editor: Mait Ots, Kristina Kersa