The gift of natural resources

Written by Catalin Hosu

An interview with Dr. Corina Hebestreit, the director of Euromines, the representative body for the European mining industry.

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Dr. Corina Hebestreit speaking at the Euromines Raw Materials and Tourism conference in 2012.

‘Resource efficiency isn’t just about trade: it’s about making the very best of what we have, whether it’s sourced in Europe or imported.’

That’s the view of Dr. Corina Hebestreit, Director of Euromines, the representative body for the European mining industry. And it’s an opinion shared by the European Commission, which recently launched its European Resource Efficiency Platform. The Platform brings together commissioners, MEPs, industry representatives and many other advisers in a bid to promote the most efficient use of all kinds of resources.

‘We’re not just talking about minerals,’ Dr. Hebestreit says, ‘but also about human potential, water, energy, and the environment. It’s very important for European nations to make full use of all of these in every way, especially for those regions and countries which have not yet reached a high level of economic development.’

She cites the Eastern European countries particularly, most of which have joined the European Union since the year 2000. For those fortunate enough to have what Dr. Hebestreit calls ‘the gift of natural resources’ it makes obvious sense to exploit them – all the more so if they already have a tradition of mining.

It is not so easy to set up an entirely new industry, she points out, as some member states hoped to do on joining the EU.

‘In the early days I heard arguments from people who wanted to launch new agricultural ventures – like growing olives, for example. As if we do not have enough olives in Europe already!’

Any new agricultural project, she points out, would run the risk of ‘bumping up against’ the existing Common Agricultural Policy, which subsidises the competition. On the other hand if a state chose to launch a new manufacturing enterprise, then it would quickly run into competition from Asia.

‘I’m not saying new ventures can’t work, but they need to be very carefully thought through in terms of the possible markets and a nation’s existing skills. You don’t want to have to retrain whole cohorts of workers to produce something that somebody else already makes cheaply and efficiently.

‘It is not so easy to turn a mine site into farmland, nor to turn miners into farmers.’

Dr. Hebestreit says she has great sympathy for anyone who has been affected by historic mine spillages and pollution, some of which involved cyanide – understandably a buzzword for critics of any new mining project.

‘But the use of cyanide in mining is now completely safe,’ Dr Hebestreit says. ‘The industry has developed a process which destroys cyanide before it reaches the tailings, and we cannot imagine any procedure which would be safer. That technology is put into place by our members in all new mines and all retrofitted operations.