The European Parliament unexpectedly voted on Wednesday (20 April) in favour of a mandatory monitoring system for minerals originating from conflict zones. But negotiations with the Council and Commission will be tough. EURACTIV France reports.
European gold, tantalum (the material that makes mobile phones vibrate), tungsten and tin imports from conflict zones could be subjected to tougher surveillance procedures under a new draft regulation voted on by the European Parliament.
MEPs in Strasbourg voted to enforce an obligatory monitoring system for the whole supply chain of “conflict minerals”, affecting 800,000 European companies.
Applause broke out as lawmakers at the last minute passed amendments calling for compulsory ethical sourcing of materials from conflict areas like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Colombia and Afghanistan. The amendments passed by a vote of 378 to 300, with 11 abstentions.
“I must confess that it’s been one of the most intense moments I’ve experienced since becoming a member of the European parliament,” said Socialist Gianni Pittella of Italy, who leads the second biggest bloc in the assembly.
Mineral importers, smelters and refineries, but also manufacturers of consumer products (mobile phones, tablets, washing machines) will have to ensure that revenues from the minerals they use are not funding conflicts.
The bill is largely aimed at Africa, where minerals play a role in several violent conflicts. The Great Lakes region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is particularly affected by the phenomenon. Mineral production accounts for an average of 24% of gross national product (GDP) in African countries, and is implicated in no fewer than 27 conflicts on the continent.
This surprise vote, led in large part by the European Parliament’s leftist parties, has considerably reinforced the initial proposal from the European Commission, which was initially based on a voluntary system.
It also reached beyond the proposal of the Parliament’s International Trade Committee, whose members had hoped to oblige only European smelters and refineries to source their materials responsibly.
A delicate trilogue on the horizon
Marie Arena, a Belgian lawmaker who steered the proposal in Parliament for the Socialists & Democrats (S&D) group, said, “The regulation voted through today is a historical victory that puts the respect of human rights above the profit of companies. Europe can become a pioneer the field of ethical economy.”
But the regulation still has a long road to travel. The bill’s slim majority in Parliament pushed MEPs to opt for quick negotiations with the EU Council and Commission before making their formal decision in first reading. This is a very unusual procedure.
Iuliu Winkler, a Romanian centre-right MEP who drafted the bill for the European People’s Party (EPP), said “Unfortunately, the divisions, which were already clear in the vote in the International Trade Committee, dominated the plenary vote. We are heading towards a complicated negotiation process.”
Among the primary concerns expressed by conservatives was the effect the regulation would have on small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). “Implementing such an obligation on the supply chain is utopian and impracticable, especially for SMEs,” said EPP member Franck Proust.
The European Conservatives and Reformist (ECR) group highlighted the negative impact the regulation could have on the legitimate trade of minerals in war-torn regions. British Conservative MEP Emma McClarkin said that “businesses who cannot afford the mandatory requirements, or get the verification they need, [may] seek to source minerals from elsewhere”.
The path travelled by the conflict minerals bill has already been a rocky one, beset by pressure from big business lobbies. The French business group Medef contacted MEPs ahead of this week’s plenary session, to warn them of the potentially costly consequences of a binding system that covers the whole supply chain. “The lobbies pushed their interests very strongly with the rapporteurs,” Green MEP Yannick Jadot confirmed.
“The extension of the regulation’s scope to all actors would be inefficient, impracticable and unreliable. Such an extension would engender very significant costs, particularly for small businesses: disproportionate compared to the expected results,” Medef stated in its document, seen by EURACTIV.
French Socialist MEP Édouard Martin told the press: “I accuse Medef of having placed a price on human life.”