“Climate Change is a challenge for the whole of Europe and the transformation of coal regions is a crucial contribution to achieving our climate goals.” stated EPP-CoR rapporteur, Mark Speich (EPP/DE), Secretary of State for Federal, European and International Affairs from North Rhine Westphalia, whose opinion on “Socioeconomic structural change in Europe’s coal regions” was adopted today at the CoR’s ECON Commission meeting.
Most coal regions in Europe are traditional industrial areas in which industrialisation was based on harnessing local resources. They are therefore mainly linked to the iron, steel and metal industries, the chemical industry and other energy-intensive industries. Nowadays, in Europe, there are 185 000 people still employed in coal mines, and a further 52 000 work in coal-fired power plants. The coal industry is also indirectly linked to various economic sectors, such as production of inputs, equipment, services and consumer goods. According to a European Commission study, 160 000 jobs could be lost by 2030 as a result of current plans to phase out coal mining and coal use for power generation.
“The regions concerned face an enormous challenge of socio-economic transformation. Therefore, they deserve support from the European Union. For the protection of our climate, coal regions will abandon current value chains and close coal mines that have to date proved to be profitable. This is particularly the case for lignite mining, which would otherwise remain a key economic factor in the region. Therefore, those regions must get the support from the European Union to build up new socio-economic perspectives for the people that have to shoulder this transformation.” underlined Mark Speich during the ECON Commission meeting.
Building up new industries in the regions is a lengthy business that requires considerable financial resources. Local and regional authorities in coal regions need support in this, particularly since they will initially lose revenue as a result of coal production and coal-powered electricity generation being phased out. A large portion of the investment for economic development must come from public funds from the Member States concerned or by attracting new private investments.
Structural change should also be supported by the future Cohesion Policy and by European Funds such as the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund, Horizon 2020 and the resources of the European Investment Bank.
Also European State aid rules have to be taken into account in this context. The Commission has to take account of the problems linked to structural change in coal regions and to ensure that coal regions have sufficient flexibility to enable them to phase out coal in a socially and economically viable way.
The Rapporteur welcomed that in the ongoing Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) negotiations, the European Parliament is calling for additional funding for structural change in coal regions. It wishes to establish a new Fair Energy Transition Fund.
The rapporteur, however, considers that the funding would be better allocated under cohesion policy: “Coal regions in transition are facing huge challenges. My investigations have shown that the existing EU instruments do not provide an adequate answer to those challenges. Funding for coal regions in transition should be allocated under cohesion policy. The additional funding should be used to strengthen the ERDF and ESF programmes for the concerned NUTS 2 regions over the next seven years. It should be intended to actively promote European added value and it should be open to all coal regions affected by structural change”, concluded EPP-CoR rapporteur Mark Speich.