EU initiative to help coal mining regions will start in autumn

In 2015, almost 8,000 people worked in the lignite industry in the Czech Republic, according to Euracoal. [cbpix/Shutterstock]

The Commission is working on an initiative to support coal mining regions during the transition towards a low-emission economy. EURACTIV Czech Republic reports.

The era of coal may be coming to an end in Europe, but it will still take several decades before it is over, mining companies said at a roundtable debate organized by EURACTIV.cz.

“France and Belgium accomplished their coal exit in the ’50s and ’60s. In the Czech Republic and Germany, it is expected by mid-century. Poland will probably be able to do that by the end of this century,” Vladimír Budinský, the vice-president of the European Association for Coal and Lignite, stated.

The coal industry respects the EU’s climate and energy goals and the effort to transform the energy sector, Budinský said. But he also stressed that the Union should take into the account the specific conditions of individual member states.

Thousands of workers

The debate took place in Ústí nad Labem in the north-western Czech Republic, which is the main lignite-mining region in the country with several brown coal power plants.

“By 2040, only the supercritical coal power plant in Ledvice will operate in the region, in view of the effective legislation and lifespan of the existing plants,” an advisor to Czech Industry Minister Vladimír Vlk said.

But at present, 48% of electricity in the country comes from coal. “It is not possible to exit coal at a stroke, because that would cause collapse,” he stressed.

In 2015, almost 8,000 people worked in the lignite industry in the Czech Republic, according to Euracoal, with 9,500 in Poland, 10,600 in Romania, 11,700 in Bulgaria and almost 15,500 in Germany.

For this and other reasons, coal mining regions need support to cope with the transition towards a low-emission economy.

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Let’s talk about coal

Last year, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) presented the Indigenous coal in the EU energy transition report, prepared by its Consultative Commission on Industrial Change (CCMI).

“The Commission drew attention to the impacts of energy transition on coal mining regions and the need to support them in the context of the EU climate and energy goals,” EU Affairs Manager at Czech coal company Severní energetická and co-rapporteur of the EESC’s opinion Renata Eisenvortová told EURACTIV.cz.

The document was also discussed with the European Commission, which was preparing a jumbo package of energy legislation last year. When presenting the Winter Energy Package in November 2016, the executive made a commitment to providing tailor-made support for coal and carbon-intensive industrial regions.

The initiative is now being elaborated by the Commission’s Directorates-General responsible for regional development, employment, energy, transport as well as research and development. Results of their work should be presented in the autumn.

“We are working on three projects which complement each other,” said Václav Štěrba from the resource efficiency unit at the Commission’s Secretariat-General that coordinates the initiative.

Permanent platform for meetings of coal industry representatives with the Commission should be established, replacing the Coal Dialogue held in Brussels once a year. It should provide support with the transition towards new technologies and the search for new business models.

The Commission also plans to put together teams of experts to help solving problems on the ground and speak to stakeholders in individual regions.

“We also want to draw up a conceptual document which will provide local and regional representatives with an overview of instruments and funds available in this field. It should be prepared within the coming months,” Štěrba said.

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Several decades with coal

Currently there are several funds that to serve disadvantaged regions. “The European Globalisation Adjustment Fund (EGF) provides support to people losing their jobs as a result of major structural changes,” Czech EPP MEP Stanislav Polčák (STAN) said at the debate. “For the period 2014 – 2020, the EGF has an annual budget up to €150 million,” he added.

From the European Social Fund, at least €1.1 billion should be dedicated in the period 2014–2020 to improving education and training systems necessary for the adaptation of skills and creation of new jobs in sectors related to energy and the environment.

For such vulnerable areas, one of the crucial questions is the setting of EU cohesion policy after 2020 when the new budget period starts. On 20 June, MEPs approved a resolution according to which it is not possible to reduce its share of the European budget. However, some net contributors to the EU budget are pushing for money to be moved from cohesion to other priorities.

According to Eisenvortová, the Commission’s initiative should not only focus on social and financial aspects, but also on research, innovations and development of new technologies, including clean coal technologies.

“There are two types of coal regions in the EU. In some of them, mining will stop for different reasons. That applies for example to the end of hard coal mining in Germany in 2018. In the others, mining will still continue for several decades,” she told EURACTIV.cz.

“The first type of region is mainly concerned with the restructuring process. The other one also focuses on ecological ways of coal mining and use,” Eisenvortová added.

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