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José Marín

Crucial raw materials: why do these natural resources determine the future of Europe?

- Europe knows its disadvantages, what will it do now to compete against China and the United States in energy and technology?

Crucial raw materials: why do these natural resources determine the future of Europe?

“Natural resources, blessing or curse? Blessing! Without a doubt”1

(Daira Gomez, 2012)

With these words, the former director of CEGESTI (an organization in defense of the environment for Central America) began to argue an article that talks about the governmental responsibilities that States must have in relation to the management of natural resources, that is, who it is up to him what to do when it comes to ensuring the rights of man over nature; That text begins to draw a reality: if we are not capable of understanding the importance of our resources, creating legislation that protects them and, above all, not falling into overexploitation, then this "blessing" will become a curse.

Why a curse? The institutional irresponsibility of the States and even more, the ignorance of the applications of this natural wealth can force them to close commercial deals that bend them. There are essential aspects that the neoliberal model and free market ideas should not touch, and without a doubt, the exploitation of natural resources is one of them. If a State grants the power, which initially corresponds to it, to investigate, exploit and profit from the raw materials of its territory to a transnational company, it is susceptible to legal, labor and commercial abuses by this type of company.

However, generalizing this idea is a mistake, not all States with transnational companies that are in charge of various activities such as exploitation, research or trade in raw materials suffer these abuses. To be brief, our planet is divided into two types of nations: those in which these companies have their headquarters, since they generally tend to have strengthened institutions as well as the best results in indices that measure aspects such as quality of life and The education. On the other hand, there are other types of nations, institutionally weak, with high poverty rates, poor quality of life, unequal distribution of wealth and, of course, low educational quality. The blessing becomes a curse when the breeding ground is this, an institutionally weak nation.

Poverty and economic inequality are a breeding ground for the abuse of transnationals.

Various authors identify our time as the time of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, this term coined by the World Economic Forum in 2016 identifies that our society is advancing in favor of advances in robotics, nanotechnologies and increasingly sophisticated and innovative applications. Beyond the advances that we may have, there is, for the most developed States, a latent concern: What natural resources feed this Fourth Industrial Revolution? Naturally, the research centers that reside in the most prestigious universities of these nations got down to work to obtain all the information in this regard, and the fact is that there was already a general panorama on this, all that remains is to update the data: In which territories are ? Are they within equally powerful nations or not? Do we have any business dealings with them? What raw materials can replace them?

For the year 2020, the European Commission presents the answer to these questions, and realizes something extremely worrying. The European Union does not have autonomy, it depends on the natural resources found in other nations and what is more, this lack of resources has led it to something that is beginning to be visible: technological backwardness. Europe has historically been characterized by natural poverty, however, the power of its political structures managed to force those colonies that, contrary to it, had this "blessing". So Latin America and Africa provided all the necessary goods, to say the least. The 2020 scenario is totally different, the wave of equality, fraternity and freedom that was born in France has now left it without colonies, however, another wave, that of institutionalism, seems to be its escape route, it can be so easy to locate the new nations with natural wealth and sign a trade treaty, occupy their corporate apparatus and legally take over the resources.

Colonization allowed the free exploitation of natural resources in America.

With less direct and better structured words, documents such as: “[Critical raw materials: strategic sectors and technologies for the European Union] ( are born ?uri=CELEX:52020DC0474&from=EN)”; "Plan of climate objectives for 2030" where it is intended to achieve energy self-sufficiency and use green technologies; “Digital sovereignty for Europe”; “[2030: Energy and climate model for Europe]( 20the%20European%20Council&text=At%20a%20meeting%20on%2023,energy%20framework%20for%20the%20EU.&text=a%20binding%20EU%20target%20of,renewable%20energy%20consumption%20in%202030)”. These documents speak about the concern of being energetically sovereign, as well as competing internationally in technological matters.

Earlier in the article What modernity is built from technology? I pointed out the link that exists between crucial raw materials and technologies, which is important to know in order to understand why this peculiar term appears in what concerns Europe . Now is the time to talk about them; Crucial raw materials are natural resources, which will help the European Industrial Strategy 2019-2024, this five-year plan, is based on three pillars2:

  • The transition to green energy.
  • The digital transition
  • Global competitiveness.

The three pillars are developed in two categories: the electrification of transport and the energy transition. The European Commission identifies 30 elements as "critical"3:

Raw material Main applications[4] Main producing countries[5]
Antimony Production of plastics, crystals and pigments. Catalyst in the polycondensation of polyester. semiconductors, infrared detectors. China 78%
Russia 4%
Barium Sulfate Oil and Gas Industry: As a weighting agent in drilling fluids. China 45%
India and
others 40%
bauxite It is enriched with Gallium to be used in electronic products. Used in the fracking technique for the search for oil. Australia and China and Guinea
beryllium Enriched with copper, it is a good electrical conductor. Also used in medical devices for tomography and X-rays. USA 90%
bismuth Used in the pharmaceutical industry for its non-toxic and environmental properties. Used for treatment of: gastritis, duodenal ulcers and also as an anticancer. China 82%
Mexico 11%
Japan 7%
Boron Intermediate uses in glass welding technique; employed in the metallurgical industry; as fertilizer; and thanks to the use of Borates compounds with sodium, calcium and/or magnesium, it is used in nuclear power plants. Türkiye 73%
Cobalt. Used in the metallurgical industry for its anticorrosive properties for the manufacture of wind turbines.
Used in: orthopedic implants; magnets; jeweler's; rechargeable batteries; and biotechnological processes in pharmaceutical studies.
By regions:
Central Africa 50%
America 10%
Metallurgical coal or coking coal. Used in the production of steel, it is estimated that 70% of the steel consumed has coked coal. Derived from the use of steel, it is used in construction and transportation. China 54%
Australia 15%
USA 7%
fluorite gem. Steel production: Used as a cooling fluid in the smelting process and as an aid in the chemical removal of sulfides or other impurities.
Cement production: used as accelerator fluid in the calcination process.
It is considered a unique and irreplaceable element.
Also used in: petrochemicals, lithium batteries and pharmaceuticals.
China >50% in Mexico
Gallium Used for radio frequencies and other electronic components. Chinese 80%
Germanium Jewelry, night vision systems. USA
Hydrofluoric Acid Used in the aerospace and nuclear industry. France 45%
USA 41%
Ukraine 8%
(HREE) Heavy Rare Earths Subgroup differentiated by their respective electronic configurations. Atomic numbers 65 to 71 and 31. Made up of: terbium, dysprosium, holmium, erbium, thulium, ytterbium, lutetium and yttrium. The differences in the electronic configuration of heavy elements make their functions unique, ranging from magnets, catalysts, turbines, electric cars and various technological devices. Chinese 90%
Indian LCD screens China 57%
France, South Korea, Japan, Canada
(LREE) Light Rare Earths Subgroup that goes from atomic number 57 to 64: Lanthanum, cerium, praseodymium, neodymium, promethium, samarium, europium and gadolinium. Chinese 90%
Magnesium Enhancer of materials with carbon fiber, aluminum industry, transport and technology. China
graphite Component in lithium batteries, lubricants. China 70%
Latin America Region 20%
natural rubber Tires and automation components. Thailand and Indonesia
Niobium Used in superalloys for the resistance of materials at high temperatures. Brazil and Canada
Platinum group metals They belong to the group: palladium, platinum, rhodium, iridium, osmium and ruthenium. Employees in: oil refining, petrochemical processes. Dentures, cancer drugs and surgical implants. South Africa 70%
Russia 20%
Phosphate rock Originating in the depths of the ocean, it is used as a fertilizer and pharmaceutical. Regions:
North Africa.
Middle East.
phosphorus fertilizers. China
scandium Applications in the aerospace industry and also in baseball bats, bicycles and tennis rackets. China
Silicon Used in manufacturing and superalloys. China 61%
Brazil, Australia, South Africa.
Strontium Used in power generators of aerospace ships, and in nuclear plants. China and Mexico and Spain
tantalum. Used in alloys to increase the resistance of materials to high temperatures and corrosion. Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo produce 50%
Titanium Used as a whitener and polisher. China
Tungsten It is used in electronics, electric cars, turbines, etc. China
Austria and Bolivia
Vanadium Used in the production of metal, especially steel and steel alloys. It has different purposes: bridges, buildings, gas and oil pipes. Stops the corrosion of metals. China 61%
Russia 14%
South Africa 8%

For more information, visit: European Commission, Study on the EU's list of Critical Raw Materials (2020), available at: Final Report\_2020\_Report\_Final .pdf

Identifying the crucial raw materials is a first step, the second is to see their industrial and technological utility, as well as their geographical distribution. As the reader will be able to realize, talking about crucial raw materials is complex, using this term simply serves to delimit its strategic importance; As I have discussed, the European Union speaks in this type of document about improving international cooperation ties in order to create allies, but also about locating States with sensitivities and being a counterweight in terms of technology for the United States and China. The geographical distribution of natural resources forces us to use interdependence as a communication channel, no State is self-sufficient, Europe knows this well, to the point of creating the European Union as a counterweight bloc, since individually, the European nations could not compete against American hegemony or Chinese economic growth.

A forced interdependence, the European reality is that. However, the fact of having located crucial raw materials as a strategy for its economic growth, its energy autonomy and even more: its cyber security, speaks about the Europe of the new decade. We have already seen the reality of a center of power, however, not everything is opulence or Western studies, there are scenarios that we should not forget, in the list of nations that have crucial raw materials are Latin American, Asian and African countries, there is also a nation that is constantly repeated: China. In future articles I will talk about what worries these regions regarding crucial raw materials.


    [1] Gómez, Daira, y Jorge Yutronic. «Recursos naturales ¿maldición o bendición?» El Ciervo 61, nº 733 (2012): 24-25.

    [2] Patrahau, Irina, Hugo van Manen, Tycho de Feijter, y Michel Rademaker. «Ambitions and the need for critical materials.» En Strategic standard setting in China, the EU and the Netherlands, 18. La Haya, Nederland: Hague Centre for Strategic Studies, 2020.

    [3] Lista obtenida de Comisión Europea. Europpean comission. s.f.

    [4] Datos obtenidos de Critical Raw Material Alliance. s.f.

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