The needs of Europe’s coal regions in the context of the EU’s energy transition were at the top of the agenda of the European Committee of the Regions’ (CoR) commission for economic policy (ECON) on 9 July in Brussels. In an opinion drawn up by Mark Speich, Secretary of State for Federal, European and International Affairs from North Rhine Westphalia, ECON members called for adjusted state aid rules and additional funding for affected regions in the framework of cohesion policy 2021-2027.
In 2018, the European Commission presented its strategic long-term vision for a prosperous, modern, competitive and climate-neutral economy by 2050. In order to achieve this goal, the EU must to a large extend abandon fossil fuels and power generation from coal, in particular, must be significantly reduced. Coal is still mined in 41 NUTS-2 regions* in 12 Member States, where it plays a profound role in the local economies.
Mark Speich (DE/EPP), Secretary of State for Federal, European and International Affairs from North Rhine Westphalia and rapporteur of the CoR opinion ‘socioeconomic transformation of coal regions in Europe’, said: “185,000 people are still employed in coal mines across Europe, 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 connected to a further 215,000 jobs. Transforming the economy and building up new industries will take time. Therefore, we need to make sure the affected workers and communities have the support, trainings and financial aid they need to rebuild their local economies. We need to give them a new prospect so that they know they will not be left behind.”
In this context, the members of the ECON commission welcome the European Parliament’s call for a Fair Energy Transition Fund in the next EU long-term budget (Multiannual Financial Framework). However, they stressed that additional funding in the framework of cohesion policy 2021-2027 would be better placed to serve coal regions and their need for tailor-made support than a centralised fund. This is particularly relevant as these regions differ widely in terms of geographical location, economic development level and future demographic trajectory.
Jerzy Buzek (PL/EPP), Chair of the European Parliament’s committee on industry, research and energy, said: “I am glad that the CoR is another EU body supporting the establishment of the Just Energy Transition Fund for coal regions proposed by me in the EP ITRE Committee and supported with MEPs vast majority. Even if the synergies with cohesion funds will be important, the European Parliament expects additional financing and a separate budget line for the Fund in the new MFF. This will be crucial not only as a strong signal to the citizens of the coal regions, who must not be left behind; but also it is an important message that in the EU we are serious about the Paris agreement, our energy transition and ambitious climate goals”.
ECON members also emphasised the added European value in supporting coal regions in this transition phase and recommended giving coal regions sufficient flexibility in applying EU state aid rules to enable them to phase out coal in a socially and economically viable way.