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23/06/2024
Mining News

Why is Rio Tinto lobbying for Serbia’s EU accession

As much as Rio Sava’s chief representative might deny Rio Tinto’s lobbying activities, in light of the official EU records, she probably couldn’t have chosen a better tactic. Because she can neither explain how Serbia’s EU accession aligns with the interests of a non-governmental company nor justify why the EU was misled by not disclosing the Government of RS as a client whose interests it represents.

When we learned about the unusual hobbies of this mining company last fall during the attempted demolition of houses owned by Rio Sava in the vicinity of Loznica, not only were the houses where people lived in this century labeled as “traditional architecture,” but it was also announced that they would carefully collect items from them, categorize them, and preserve them for further scientific study and potentially museum exhibitions. We had no idea about the extent of idleness caused by the absence of mines. Since it turned out that long before the idea to delve into curatorial waters, more precisely since November 2020, Rio Tinto reported to the European Union that one of the key focuses of their lobbying efforts (alongside the expected interest in regulations on mineral resources and batteries) would be Serbia’s accession to the EU.

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This information was first heard by the public from Prof. Ratko Ristić during a lithium debate on RTS, followed by an immediate reaction from Rio Sava’s representative Marijana Babić: “Please, where does the information come from that a company operating worldwide and going wherever there are resources, indiscriminately lobbies for any country to join anywhere in the world?” Of course, the fact that the professor had a paper with an extract from the EU Lobbying Organizations Register (“Transparency Register”) didn’t thwart – denial had already become the company’s conditioned reflex, so the last time they argued with activists’ claims that Rio Sava spends just as much money on consultancy services as it reported to the APR in its financial statements.

On the Registry’s website, it can also be found that in 2022 and 2023, Rio Tinto engaged the consulting firm FIPRA International SRL to lobby for them in four areas: the European Green Deal, batteries, the Critical Raw Materials Regulation, and again – Serbia’s accession to the EU.

“If it weren’t too serious and sad, I would think it’s a joke. That a private company, whose primary concern is profit by definition, is lobbying for the accession of a country to the European Union – to me, that seems completely nonsensical. And if it wasn’t agreed upon with the Government of Serbia, which should not be ruled out, it actually seems to me like a small propaganda icon – look, Rio Tinto cares about Serbia. It would be very good if Rio Tinto didn’t care about Serbia, especially not lobbying in the EU for Serbia’s accession to that group of countries. In my opinion, this is completely shameless information,” says the President of the European Movement in Serbia, Radomir Diklić.

Whether it’s an agreement with the state remains to be determined. Even before the formation of the new government, Radar addressed the Ministry of European Integration with questions about whether they were aware of Rio Tinto’s activity and whether the Government consented to it. We also asked them if it’s not an agreement between the Government and Rio Tinto, whether the Government has mechanisms to protect itself from potential damage that may arise from inadequate self-initiated representation of Serbia’s interests by this private company? We didn’t receive an answer. Later, we addressed the same questions to the Office of the Prime Minister, but we weren’t any luckier with their media relations service.

One possibility is that there is a lobbying agreement between Serbia and Rio Tinto for Serbia’s EU accession, in which case Rio Tinto would violate the Code of Conduct that binds registered lobbyists (which the company signed to comply with), among other things, to indicate the interests and clients they represent – and Rio Tinto reported representing only its own interests. The other possibility is that Rio Tinto indeed perceives Serbia’s accession to the European Union as its own interest. After all, everything seemed to be going well with the Jadar project, only for (almost) all legal procedures to be suddenly suspended, and there is a more stable business climate and greater legal certainty in the EU – then it wouldn’t be clear why Marijana Babić didn’t say so on RTS. The third possibility is that there was a mistake and the item “Serbia’s EU accession” accidentally slipped from another document, which would be quite unusual considering that no other organization in the Registry, which has over 12,000 lobbyists, has such a declared interest. And when we add to that the fact that after the initial registration in 2020, Rio Tinto updated its information four more times, the last time in February, all that’s left is to remember Ilija Čvorović’s observation, “The headquarters might make a mistake once, but not a hundred times.”

“Rio Tinto can deny it, but to me, it is completely unimaginable that anyone in Brussels bureaucracy would put on their own initiative that one of Rio Tinto’s main activities is lobbying for Serbia’s EU accession. Let’s not joke about such serious matters, such as EU accession and Rio Tinto’s role here, which are two completely different things. Did they perhaps lobby for the inclusion of Aborigines in Australia when they were poisoned and their land destroyed? It’s just their attempt to sell fog, so that if someone protests here – and many do, of course – they can say but look, we lobby for Serbia,” says Diklić.

On the Registry’s website, it can also be found that in 2022 and 2023, Rio Tinto engaged the consulting firm FIPRA International SRL to lobby for them in four areas: the European Green Deal, batteries, the Critical Raw Materials Regulation, and again – Serbia’s accession to the EU. Although no meetings directly related to the EU enlargement process are noticeable from FIPRA’s available list of meetings (nor from Rio Tinto itself), Rio Tinto probably wouldn’t re-engage them if they weren’t doing anything about it. Can we then doubt that it passed through meetings related to critical raw materials?

“We can only speculate that the issue passed through meetings since we don’t have records. What Marijana Babić claims, that nothing is secret, that it’s all easy to verify – no, it’s not, it’s extremely difficult. We sent a request asking for information about over twenty meetings between Rio Tinto or their lobbying groups and the European Commission. And we received huge amounts of correspondence about organizing those meetings, completely irrelevant information such as the flow of scheduling when they will take place, but no records related to Serbia. We even have parts of minutes where everything is edited out,” says Bojana Novaković from the organization March on Drina.

Rio Tinto can deny it, but to me, it is completely unimaginable that anyone in Brussels bureaucracy would put on their own initiative that one of Rio Tinto’s main activities is lobbying for Serbia’s EU accession – Radomir Diklić

Moreover, 10 out of 20 meetings they requested information about were with the Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the European Green Deal, Maroš Šefčovič, and it was precisely the greatest difficulties in obtaining documentation from the March on Drina organization that they experienced regarding his meetings. Not even the text of the Letter of Intent signed by Šefčovič and Ivica Dačić in September, about cooperation in the field of critical raw materials and the entire value chain up to electric vehicles (it should be noted that the announced strategic partnership was placed in the context of accelerated EU accession), was published immediately; activists managed to obtain it only in March.

“His office intentionally sends us things we don’t need, to avoid sending us things we’re asking for. And when the European Ombudsman ordered them to send us what we need, they sent us two summarized paragraphs, which is not at all in the format of the other meeting records we received from the EU,” adds Novaković.

Therefore, it is difficult to expect that the role of Rio Tinto in the EU accession process will be clarified soon. But regarding the EU’s relationship with lithium exploitation in Serbia, while the European Parliament in 2022 called for more transparency about the Jadar project, and in the report on Serbia for 2023, the European Commission criticized that “there was no further action on the civil legislative initiative with 38,000 signatures calling for a ban on lithium mining, although this is a legal obligation,” last week, Šefčovič stated that there is positive progress and that “there were some legal issues that are now being discussed between the company and the government.” So when they agree, then presumably the Administrative Court can finally make decisions in the whole series of disputes between Rio Sava and the state.

Source : Radar

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