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EU explores mining overseas territories for critical raw materials

Good morning.

In its quest to find critical raw materials to power the green industrial revolution (and to buy less of them from China), the EU is tearing up red tape and urging member states to dig for them everywhere. I reveal that even the white sandy beaches and tropical islets of the EU’s overseas territories might not be spared.

And our Netherlands correspondent explains why forcing failed asylum seekers to take Covid-19 tests is the latest initiative by The Hague to send illegal migrants back to their countries of origin.

Have a great weekend.

Bauxite on the beach

How much do you want that climate-friendly electric car? Enough to turn a picture-perfect tropical island in the south Pacific into an open-pit nickel mine?

Context: The EU is trying to scale up green industry to meet emissions targets and keep pace with the US and China, while desperate to lower its reliance on Beijing for many of the raw materials required. The proposed Critical Raw Materials Act will set quotas for domestic production, and lower regulatory barriers to mine those materials.

The committee working on the text has requested the European Commission to look into the implications of including the EU’s Overseas Countries and Territories under the law following a request from France, three officials told the Financial Times.

The EU has 13 OCTs. Greenland, linked to Denmark; six islands in the Caribbean linked to the Netherlands; and six islands spread around the globe linked to France.

Two French OCTs in the south Pacific are particularly relevant. New Caledonia already has a big nickel mining industry. It is estimated to contain 10 per cent of the world’s reserves. US electric-car maker Tesla signed a supply deal with one mine there in 2021.

And French Polynesia and the warm waters around its islands sit on a deposit that is estimated to hold some 80-100bn tonnes of rare earth minerals, which are critical to emerging green technologies and currently monopolised by China.

Mining in these islands — which were colonised — can be politically complex, however. Unsurprisingly, their residents don’t look kindly on large industrial projects that both spoil the landscape and send profits back to western Europe. Protests by groups seeking independence from Paris delayed the sale of the mine in New Caledonia that struck a deal with Tesla. Local state entities now control 51 per cent of the asset.

Including the territories in the legislation could be a boon for the relevant European governments and their green industrial ambitions. But does Brussels want to see mining companies fast-tracking projects and waving away local opposition by brandishing an EU directive and flying a blue flag with yellow stars at the front gate?

Chart du jour: Eureka

The euro has reached its highest level against the dollar in over a year, as the eurozone’s economic situation begins to improve. The dollar, meanwhile, is suffering.

No-se way

Faced with a housing shortage and crowded immigration reception centres, the Netherlands wants to take draconian measures to return rejected asylum seekers to their countries of origin: forced Covid tests, writes Andy Bounds.

Context: EU figures show that more than 300,000 people annually are handed deportation orders across the bloc, but just a fifth leave. The reasons are many, one factor being that more than 40 countries refuse to accept their citizens back unless they test negative for coronavirus.

Therefore, the simplest way to prevent deportation is to refuse a test.

The Hague said almost 2,000 repatriation flights were cancelled in 2021 and 2022 because foreign nationals refused to co-operate with a pre-departure test.

The Dutch government is under additional pressure from the Farmer-Citizen Movement. The upstart populist party topped provincial polls last month, partly by tapping into disaffection with the chaos in the immigration system.

A baby died in August last year at an overcrowded shelter for migrants — just to give one example of the issues.

“People who are not allowed to stay in our country must actually return. This is crucial for the support for asylum reception,” said Eric van der Burg, junior minister for justice and security, as he proposed the new law yesterday.

The legislation could be adapted for forced testing for other diseases if necessary, he said.

What to watch today

  1. French constitutional council rules on President Emmanuel Macron’s contested pension reform.

  2. Final day of US president Joe Biden’s “homecoming” visit to Ireland.

Now read these

  • The other Europe Express: Sleeper trains — including luxurious “hotels on rails” — are having a revival.

  • If you insist: The Hungarian government has abandoned a Russian bank after it was sanctioned by the US.

  • C’est la vie: When it comes to attracting finance jobs from London post-Brexit, Paris is winning.

Plus . . . 

Is a Labour victory over the Conservatives inevitable? Join Stephen Bush, the FT’s award-winning columnist, and colleagues as they tackle your questions in the run-up to the UK’s 2024 election.

April 19 at 14:00-15:00 CET
Register here for free today.

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