Lithium Lobbying: The Mining Plan in Serbia that’s Too Big to Fail

Sasa Dragojlo Belgrade BIRN October 25, 2021

The permits have yet to be issued and Serbian authorities have mooted the possibility of a referendum, but with so much at stake can “the voice of the people” really stop mining giant Rio Tinto’s plan to dig Europe’s biggest lithium mine in western Serbia?

In June this year, amid growing public opposition to a planned $2.4 billion lithium mine in western Serbia, President Aleksandar Vucic mooted the possibility of a referendum on the issue, “to see what the people want.”

“The voice of the people is the voice of God,” said Vucic, a former ultranationalist who, at the helm of the ruling Progressive Party, has pursued a neo-liberal economic course since taking power in 2012.

With demand for electric vehicle batteries on the rise, Anglo-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto wants to start construction work in 2022 on the ‘Jadar’ lithium mine that promises to become Europe’s biggest in terms of production and will help make the company one of the top 10 lithium producers in the world.

The project has triggered significant concern among environmentalists and some residents around the proposed site in Loznica, western Serbia, who say it will devastate the local environment, undermine agriculture and fuel depopulation.

An environmental impact assessment, or EIA, is still being conducted and permits to start work have not yet been issued.

But while Vucic has promised to listen to the people, a BIRN analysis of the steps already taken, the money involved and the networking of powerful stakeholders suggests the deal is far too big to fail, whatever the ‘voice of God’ might say.

“Are there some promises and deals behind closed doors? It’s hard to say. But Serbia’s experience shows that foreign investors were regularly protected and supported by the government,” said Zlatko Minic, a board member of Transparency Serbia, a branch of the watchdog Transparency International.

For full article go to Balkan Insight

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