The European Parliament adopted a resolution with an overwhelming majority in which it highlighted “the violent behavior of hooligans towards peaceful demonstrators” in Serbia. Some lawmakers said Rio Tinto has a bad reputation and that its activities are devastating for the environment.
Members of the European Parliament condemned the “increasing violence by extremist and hooligan groups against peaceful environmental demonstrations” in Serbia. They expressed regret at the “amount of force used by the police” at the latest series of protests against lithium research and Rio Tinto’s mine and processing plant project.
The resolution was adopted by 586 votes in favor, 53 against and 44 abstentions.
Serbia reprimanded for corruption, lack of transparency in environmental protection
European lawmakers called on the Serbian authorities to publicly condemn the actions of the hooligans. Protesters have rallied to express opposition to “the rushed adoption” of two laws, where the Law on Expropriation was “seen as opening space for controversial foreign investment projects, such as the Rio Tinto mine, with a heavy impact on the environment,” according to the resolution.
“The police force allegedly overstepped its authority or failed to protect protesters from violence and protect their human right to peaceful assembly,” the document adds.
The members of the European Parliament pointed to “corruption and the rule of law in the environment area” and the lack of transparency over environmental and social impact assessments in infrastructure projects.
Within the resolution, the European Parliament also highlighted allegations about forced labor and human trafficking at Linglong’s controversial tire plant construction site in Zrenjanin.
No respect for labor, environmental rights
In the debate, some European lawmakers said Rio Tinto has a bad reputation and that its activities are devastating for the environment, N1 reported.
“It is nothing new that Serbia is a captured state with a very weak reform track record. The Serbian regime has widely opened its doors to Chinese investments that have no respect whatsoever for labor and environmental rights and human dignity above all,” Viola von Cramon-Taubadel from the European Green Party said before the vote. She added Rio Tinto and the Government of Serbia kept the details of their agreement secret.
The protests are not just about the environment or controversial laws but against “widespread corruption, the inaction of state institutions, lack of transparency and any progress on Serbia’s European path,” Von Cramon stated.
According to Klemen Grošelj from Slovenia, one of the authors of the resolution, it is not directed against Serbia or the people of Serbia, but a warning to the country’s authorities that the violation of fundamental rights like the ones at the Linglong plant construction site and during environmental protests are unacceptable. The Serbian government must secure the right to peaceful protest, he warned.
“During the peaceful protests, there was a series of incidents and provocations, sporadic violence, scuffles and fights caused by groups of provocateurs and government supporters, with a conspicuous absence of uniformed police,” Croatian MEP Tomislav Sokol said.
European periphery planned to be turned into landfill
Non-attached European lawmaker Ivan Vilibor Sinčić said there are plans for lithium mines at 20 locations. “The crucial place is the Jadar Valley, which has 18,000 inhabitants and distinguished agriculture, and it confirms the sad neocolonial reality of Europe and China. During Angela Merkel’s visit to her EPP [European People’s Party] colleague Vučić, he was a waiter and Serbia was a buffet,” he stated.
He was referring to the arrival of then-Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel in Belgrade in September, when she said her country is interested in lithium from Serbia.
“Why isn’t Europe interested in its own lithium, given that the biggest reserves are in Germany and Czechia? Why is the neoliberal concept being followed, where the gains and anything that’s worth goes to the center, and the pollution goes to the periphery? Imagine if lithium was found under the wine plantations around Bordeaux. Would the French be discussing the displacement of the people that live there? What if it was found in Tuscany? In the Rhine Valley? Of course they wouldn’t. It isn’t acceptable for peripheral countries, whether they are European members or not, to be a landfill so that someone could drive in electric cars,” Sinčić underscored.
On the same day, Rio Tinto called for dialogue and claimed it would continue with the implementation of its Jadar project in Serbia in line with the law. “We understand the interest of citizens in everything that happens in connection with the project, and we will continue to provide information on all aspects of the project for which we are responsible and in which we participate,” the company said.