EU Commission documents reveal fund that pays coal lobby staff

The EU commission spends 40 million euro per year on the research of cleaner coal technologies. Some of the money goes into coal lobby groups. [Shutterstock]

Internal documents show that a European Commission fund invests €40 million per year into coal research projects. The money also goes towards personnel costs for Europe’s main coal lobby organisation. EURACTIV Germany reports.

A little-known EU fund managed by the European Commission invests around €40 million each year into coal and steel research.

Around 150 projects are currently receiving financial support under the EU-funded programme, according to documents obtained by green activists at the European Environmental Bureau (EBB), and shared with EURACTIV.

A report by Greenpeace’s “Unearthed” project first drew attention to the “Research Fund for Coal and Steel” (RFCS) in January. Its goal is to support coal mining research to make mines more efficient and environmentally friendly.

The documents released by the Commission show what the funds are actually used for. In addition to workshop costs, meetings and IT support, personnel costs are also listed. A project called “CoalTech2051”, for example, was granted almost €50,000 to hire an employee for seven months.

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The project is carried out by Euracoal, the EU-wide lobby organisation for the coal industry. “This means that the EU Commission uses this fund to finance employees of the coal lobby,” said Anton Lazarus, who requested the documents for the EBB.

The documents also reveal that the Commission relies on a so-called Coal Advisory Group (CAG) when deciding which projects to fund.

Among its 17 members – all company representatives – is an employee of German energy firm RWE as well as two employees of Euracoal, the same lobbying association that receives funds for its “CoalTech 2051″ project.

This has raised questions about how the fund is being used by lobbyists to finance their own projects.

Strictly speaking, it is not the 17 Coal Advisory Group members who decide on which projects receive support. The final decision is made by the European Commission, together with a group of experts and representatives of the EU’s 28 member states.

However, the group must approve the list and can determine the priorities for the upcoming research phase. “This obviously raises questions about a possible conflict of interest,” Lazarus said. “It just does not look good that there’s an advisory group that’s even talking about this money”.

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Cash backstory

The RFCS was set up by the EU’s predecessor organisation, the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). With the expiry of the ECSC treaty in 2002, €1.6 billion of the fund remained.

Back then, the money came from the industry itself, emphasises Brian Ricketts, General Secretary of Euracoal. The member states handed it over to the Commission, which then invested it in “very safe government bonds”.

Since then, the RFCS has run on whatever interest has accrued, reaching €40 million a year. “Of course, many of our companies belonged to the state at that time, and some still do. But it has never been public money,” Ricketts insisted.

In the case of “CoalTech2051”, which is operated by Euracoal, the project is supposed to promote the RFCS itself and to ensure its future financing.

This is necessary because, according to Ricketts, the fund has been shrinking due to low interest rates. In good years, when interest rates were higher, the fund managed to amass up to €60 million per year.

For Christian Schaible, policy manager at the EEB, the coal fund is about something else: “If you read the proposal, it is clear that this project is just a vehicle to spend EU money on promoting coal”. Clean coal, as promoted by the RFCS, does not exist, Schaible claims.

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[Edited by Sam Morgan and Frédéric Simon]

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