Same rights in the midst of cobalt hunt in Sweden

May 1st, 2021 by Alva Blomkvist

During the past few months there have been several news reporting of the considerable value to be found in minerals and mines in Sweden. In particular with regards to cobalt, a mineral used in the production of batteries, and thus one for which demand is deemed to increase considerably taking into consideration the changes related to environmental policies and environmental friendly-technology.

Several mining companies have now received the necessary governmental authorizations in order to explore the possibilities to commercially mine cobalt. And it is most certainly so that from actually finding a place where mining activities could take place to actually putting in place a mine, several legal procedures (difficult and often cumbersome ones) are required. In this process, the Swedish government has a key role. A decision to exploit minerals in Sweden may be appealed to the Department of Commerce, in the end it is the government that decides where a mine is to be placed. In March this year, the Swedish Government initiated a governmental inquiry concerning ways that may make this process much faster (Kommitédirektiv 2021:16).

While mining becomes a key factor in the development and flourishing of environmental friendly technologies, and thus a priority for the modern society, it is important to remember that a mine considerably influences the area in which it is placed as well as the inhabitants. Very often the areas chosen by mining companies are those found in the North of Sweden, mostly on the basis of the scarse population and the vast unhabited areas. In such areas, there are not so many other actors opposing such a development and there are less factors to consider in the legal procedures. This also means that these activities have historically (and most probably also in the future) placed in S√°pmi land.

This means that once more the Sami communities will have to fight against a prioritized commercial activity, namely environmental-friendly technologies. What they have to juxtapose to what seems to be a global priority, is their reindeer herding, something that seems exotic and very old-fashioned. In the existing lengthy legal procedure required in order for a new mine to be established same communities are given an opportunity to react and protect their lands and rights. It is difficult to be certain, but one could worry that in a faster, simplified procedure oppositions will not be paid so much attention and will not be able to influence the process.

It seems in the process of this report as a result of the governmental inquiry, Sami rights are not represented and thus one could without a doubt worry that the new procedure (if now a new one is the result of this process) will be a formalized way of circumventing Sami rights to the benefit of what is perceived as modern society imperative, the boosting of environmental technology. This seems like a step backwards for Swedish legislation.

Frantzeska Papadopoulou

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