"This is the beginning of a natural resources strategy," EU Enterprise Commissioner Günter Verheugen told journalists during the presentation of a new 'integrated strategy' for raw materials.
The initiative comes amid growing concerns about global resource scarcity as the environmental 'footprint' of the planet's population grows heavier (EurActiv 29/10/08).
EU industries, and particularly those active in the communications, aerospace and other hi-tech sectors, are facing growing competition from emerging economies like China and India, which are increasingly sourcing and using raw materials from Africa and Latin America, home to some of Earth's largest reserves of minerals and metals such as cobalt, copper, zinc, gold and diamonds.
To address the situation, the Commission called for greater clarity regarding industry access to mineral and metal deposits found in the nature reserves of the EU's Natura 2000 network.
In addition, the EU executive is calling for more 'resource diplomacy' - talks with international partners - to secure deals on access to resources. Greater recycling of 'end-of-life' goods and efforts to stop illegal exports of scrap metal are also among the recommendations of the strategy, which contains no specific legislative measures.
Legislative proposals could, however, appear by the end of 2010, Verheugen said.
Brussels-based environmental NGOs have refrained from critically responding to the plans so far. Andreas Baumueller, WWF's coordinator for biodiversity issues, told EurActiv that any changes to existing rules governing access to areas covered by the Natura 2000 network would need to be assessed based on guidelines contained in the EU's 1992 Habitats Directive.
During the presentation, Verheugen stressed that any increased mining activity in protected areas would need to take place in a "sustainable" way, before adding that precise criteria would need to be defined.