Montalegre locals battle to repel lithium prospection

“Corruption in mining endemic” – Portuguese academics join pressure against European zeal for ‘critical raw materials’

Open letter signed by dozens of civic associations and university professors

Dozens of Portuguese civic associations, as well as academics and university professors, have signed their names to an Open Letter warning of the European Commission’s flawed strategy to mine/ extract and make use of critical raw materials as a way of securing “a sustainable, digital and sovereign future”.

The letter went out during the recent ‘raw materials week’ in Brussels – preparing the way for the CRMA, or critical raw materials act – and hot on the heels of the fall of Portugal’s Socialist government for reasons intrinsically linked to the subject.

The political furore unleashed by Operation Influencer has to a large extent deflected attentions from one its starting points: suspicions of corruption in plans for the mining of lithium.

The lithium projects are rooted in the use (some would say abuse) of raw materials – and, according to the Open Letter which has been endorsed by associations and critical thinkers throughout Europe, the European Commission’s approach to this subject has failed to understand the likely implications of corruption and collusion.

Says the text: “The Act does not address corruption, which is known to be endemic to mining.

“Across the world, undue influence of mining led to an erosion of the quality of governance; spreading corruption and accentuating local power asymmetries. Governments wrongly merge the interests of mining corporations with those of the general public. Meanwhile this forfeits real mitigation pathways for climate change and the environment.

“The recent news in Portugal, where several companies, high-ranking politicians, and public entities are being investigated for alleged corruption related to the attribution of two lithium concessions, led to the resignation of the Prime Minister António Costa. 

“Savannah Resources and Lusorecursos, the owners of the two concessions, will no longer participate in the Raw Materials Week 2023. The investigation has brought political uncertainty and instability to the country and illustrates that Europe is not immune to the all too present connection between mining and corruption

“This is not an exception – across the EU there exist countless cases of corruption and misconduct related to mining, even if they have rarely been brought to justice or received due public attention.

“Purporting mining as a ‘climate solution’ and mining companies as ‘climate champions’, the CRMA will waterdown laws, fast track procedures and inject billions of taxpayers euros into speculative and reckless mining”, warn the signatories, referring to clauses on so called “strategic raw materials” (which include lithium) which allow for ‘fast tracking’ of permits by “limiting public consultation periods and shortening the time citizens have for a fair trial to defend their rights.

“This runs against human and environmental rights such as the right to public participation in decision making on environmental matters and the right to access justice. Other fundamental rights, including the right to housing, are breached in areas where new mines involve forced evictions, while eroding our food sovereignty and the rights of farmers, peasants and other people working in rural areas. 

“The CRMA will not only extend bad governance across Europe, but exacerbate it globally by allowing the designation of strategic projects outside of the EU, including on Indigenous lands”. 

As the mining press concedes, this is a ‘hard no’ to the European Commission’s strategy, and certainly not the kind of letter that will help political arguments in Portugal that all the government was doing with regard to these latest projects under suspicion was ‘accelerating much needed business’.

If the letter’s signatories are correct, “European policymakers have bought into the delusion that more mining will mitigate ecological and climate catastrophe” when in fact it will do precisely the opposite: “According to Simon P. Michaux, of the Finnish Geological Survey (GTK) “a case can be made that not only is current mineral production not high enough to supply the projected quantity demand for metals, but current global reserves are not large enough to meet long term consumption targets.

In short, “European environmental and climate policy is deeply flawed and leading to worsening ecological conditions

“We need legal reforms based on energy and material reduction, not a law that feeds into the hands of the mining lobby”, insists the text, which informs that its 60,000 signatories will “take all legal steps” to reject “another law that wants short term profit to the detriment of people and the planet”.

For the time being, there has been no ‘response’ to the Open Letter, which was addressed to the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola, the College of Commissioners and a number of others.

Among the 1,000-plus associations were the following from Portugal:

Associação Cultural Amigos da Serra da Estrela

Associação Montalegre Com Vida

Recuperação e Vigilância de Animais Selvagens (CERVAS)

Associação ALDEIA,

Portugal Movimento Seixoso-Vieiros: Lítio Não

Unidos em Defesa de Covas do Barroso

Espaço A SACHOLA

Portugal Rede Minas Não

Portugal Extinction Rebellion 

Portugal Chaves Comunitária

Grupo de Investigação Territorial (GIT)

Associação Povo e Natureza do Barroso

AVE – Associação Vimaranense para a Ecologia

Movimento SOS Serra d’Arga

Movimento Contra Mineração Penalva do Castelo, Mangualde e Satão

Rede para o Decrescimento em Portugal

SOS – Serra da Cabreira

IRIS, Associação Nacional de Ambiente

Sciaena – Oceano # Conservação # Sensibilização

Movimento Não às Minas – Montalegre

Movimento ContraMineração Beira Serra

Movimento Amarante diz não à exploração de lítio Seixoso-Vieiros

FAPAS – Associação Portuguesa para a Conservação da Biodiversidade

Grupo pela Preservação da Serra da Argemela (GPSA)

URZE – Associação Florestal da Encosta da Serra da Estrela

Bravo Mundo – Citizens Movement for a Safer Future

Não as Minas Beiras

Portugal MiningWatch

There were also a number of eminent university professors.

The full text of the Open Letter can be found here ND