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Serbia’s lithium mining revival: Implications for EU membership and geopolitics

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Serbia is aiming to position itself as a significant supplier of lithium in Europe, reviving a contentious mining project that was previously abandoned due to widespread public protests. Initially halted in 2022 amidst environmental concerns and community opposition, the project has been resurrected against a backdrop of increasing demand for lithium driven by the energy transition, particularly for electric vehicle batteries.

The ruling Progressive Party, consolidating its power since the project’s suspension, appears determined to push forward despite past controversies. President Aleksandar Vučić has indicated readiness to greenlight the project pending assurances from the European Union and mining giant Rio Tinto regarding environmental impact mitigation and integration into the EU’s lithium value chain.

Serbia’s strategic calculus includes leveraging its lithium resources—estimated at €4 billion—to not only attract mining investments but also to establish refining and processing facilities. This move aims to capture more value in the lithium supply chain and align with EU strategic interests amidst geopolitical complexities, including balancing relations with Russia and China.

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From a geopolitical standpoint, Serbia’s renewed focus on lithium underscores its ongoing aspiration for EU membership. Vučić’s government, while navigating criticism for its policies, sees aligning with the EU as strategically advantageous, especially given the bloc’s increasing emphasis on strategic autonomy and clean energy initiatives.

If successful, Serbia’s lithium ambitions could significantly boost its influence in EU membership negotiations, potentially supplying a substantial portion of the bloc’s lithium demand for electric vehicles. This strategic move not only aims to bolster Serbia’s economic prospects but also seeks to strengthen its geopolitical position within Europe.

In conclusion, Serbia’s decision to revive the lithium mining project signals a pivotal moment in its quest for EU integration, reflecting both economic ambitions and strategic realignment amidst evolving global dynamics.

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