President of Serbia Aleksandar Vučić said Rio Tinto has to offer “the cleanest solution” with “the highest standards” to be allowed to resume its lithium mining and processing project in Jadar.
Two years after formally abolishing Rio Tinto’s lithium exploitation and processing project, Serbia is still keeping the door open. The authorities blocked the activities after nationwide protests, the largest in two decades. However, top officials said several times in the meantime that it was a mistake and accused the local population and activists of working for the interests of foreign powers, which they never identified.
The Anglo-Australian mining giant never gave up and disputed a range of the government’s decisions at the Administrative Court. President of Serbia Aleksandar Vučić told reporters at the ongoing annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos that he spoke with the company’s representatives.
Vučić never hid what he thought about Jadar project
He added he never hid what he thought about the project, claiming it would equal 20% of all foreign direct investment over a five-year period, Politika reported. “We had a difficult conversation and I said they have to offer the cleanest solution, one that would be satisfactory for our people. The highest standards in the world for the nature and the people that would work,” Vučić stated.
The lowest net salary would be EUR 1,000 per month, in his words. The president revealed that he discussed the issue of protests “everywhere in the world” with his collocutors, but also that he asked them not to take measures to protect their interests.
According to Vučić, the question is whether the company would sue Serbia. “We are going in front of the people, openly discussing everything, and not a priori. To ask whether our people can be safe, if our rivers and mountains can be clean,” he stressed and added that the next government, which should take office by May, would deal with the matter.
Government keeps ignoring environmental concerns
Of note, the European Parliament adopted the Critical Raw Materials Act a month ago. It will enable the European Union to source strategic minerals through deals with friendly third countries, including for controversial lithium mining projects. Serbia and the European Commission reportedly signed a letter of intent already in September to initiate such a strategic partnership. The country’s government never confirmed or denied it.
Vučić’s ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) and its allies have ignored a so-called people’s initiative to ban lithium and boron mining, with over 38,000 signatures, which legally obligated the National Assembly to discuss it.
Rio Tinto’s proposed mine and accompanying facilities would be located in Jadar, an agricultural area with important historical heritage, on the territory of the City of Loznica in western Serbia. Resistance escalated in 2021 as the company refused to explain the experimental technologies it would use. At the same time, the government failed to address the matter. One of the main concerns was the impact of the processing unit on the environment and public health.
Several other small firms have licenses for lithium and boron exploration throughout western, central and southern Serbia. Their activities led to numerous cases of environmental damage and conflict with locals.