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EU-Serbia strategic partnership on critical raw materials amid lithium mining reversal

Johanna Bernsel, the European Commission’s Spokesperson for the Internal Market, reiterated the EU’s commitment to forging a strategic partnership with Serbia on critical raw materials, responding to recent reports by the Financial Times. She emphasized that this partnership, based on a Letter of Intent signed in September 2023 between European Commission Vice President Maroš Ševčovič and Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić, would mark the EU’s 14th such arrangement with third countries in this domain.

Bernsel underscored the EU’s insistence that the extraction of critical raw materials must adhere to regulatory frameworks aligned with EU environmental standards. She highlighted that the envisioned partnership with Serbia aims not only to foster a sustainable and competitive e-mobility ecosystem within Serbia but also to establish a secure and sustainable supply of Critical Raw Materials for the EU.

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Financial Times recently reported Serbia’s intent to approve the Rio Tinto lithium mining project, signaling a reversal after Belgrade had previously halted the project. Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić indicated confidence in addressing environmental concerns at the Jadar site with new guarantees from Rio Tinto and the EU. He expressed optimism about securing commitments from EU leaders for investments in battery manufacturing and electric vehicle production. Vučić anticipated a formal announcement on the project in Belgrade next month, contingent upon meeting stringent environmental and operational criteria across the entire value chain.

Responding to the Financial Times’ claims, Johanna Bernsel refrained from commenting on specific remarks by President Vučić, stating that such decisions are within the purview of national governments to create economic opportunities and oversee industrial projects.

The Financial Times highlighted that protests led by environmental groups had led to the Serbian government revoking Rio Tinto’s licenses in January 2022. Concerns included potential water pollution, displacement of residents, and long-term environmental damage post-mine closure, which had resulted in significant public unrest and logistical disruptions across Serbia.

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