There are plenty of reasons to doubt that both the government and Rio Sava have really given up on lithium exploitation in Serbia.First of all, due to the willingness of the Government of Serbia to support the construction of the Slovakian InoBat battery factory in Ćuprija with as much as 200,000 euros per employee, even though it could easily be closed as soon as the subsidy money is used up.
The last time Ana Brnabić spoke about the possible deletion of the famous “point” placed on Rio Tinto’s lithium mine, she assured us that all citizens of Serbia would have to decide on it. “I don’t mean through a referendum or anything, we’re not going in that direction, but through having a public debate about what we gain, what we lose,” she said last December and added that she was “boundlessly sorry” that she could not immediately restart the Jadar project.
The referendum is not even in the announcement, and from the public debate we got the recent Twitter spat between the Prime Minister and Sava Manojlović, which culminated in her author’s text published on the website of the Government of Serbia, in which she spoke of dissenters as horses, frogs, ducks and barbecuers who win money from foreign foundations “so that Serbia would become an energy slave and thereby lose its independence and sovereignty”.
At that level of communication, it’s no wonder that no one hopes for a real social agreement anymore, not even a transparent announcement of plans, but we are doomed to read between the lines. The most recent example is the introduction into the parliamentary procedure of the Proposal for the Law on Environmental Impact Assessment and the Law on Strategic Environmental Impact Assessment.
Activists immediately thought that their submission to the parliament at a time when elections, apparently, were just about to be called – was precisely motivated by the revival of Jadro. After all, the minutes from 2021 of the meetings between Rio Tinto and the General Directorate of the European Commission, showed that Rio Tinto (before the plans were thwarted) timed the start of work on the mine immediately “after the elections in Serbia” the following year. However, the reaction seems to have been hasty, since both of the mentioned legal proposals foresee that the implementation of their parts related to the assessment of the acceptability of future studies will not begin until two years after they come into force.
But that does not mean that there is no lack of cause for concern. In the last month alone, we have witnessed the failed attempt by Rio Sava, Rio Tinto’s domestic subsidiary, to demolish the houses they bought in the area of the planned mine, then the publication of Jadra’s Economic Impact Assessment and finally the appointment of a new director at the head of Rio Sava
And while the preparation of the economic analysis might sound like Rio Tinto is reconsidering its intended investment, in fact it is a document that is clearly intended for the authorities, to convince them to start the procedure as soon as possible. So it can be read that if Serbia “which is already a key supplier of manufactured goods in the European Union, takes active steps to encourage and maintain the local ecosystem in the production of batteries, it could become the very center of the European revolution in the field of e-mobility”. But also that for such a thing it is necessary to act “quickly and strongly”.