“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.” said 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 unanimously adopted today at the CoR’s Plenary Session.
The call by local and regional leaders combines backing of special measures to aid several dozen regions with a defence for the EU’s budget for regional development, which some EU national leaders wish to see cut substantially. The European Commission has proposed both a reduction in cohesion funds for regional development, and the creation of a Just Transition Fund for coal regions. The incoming president of the Commission, Ursula vVon dDer Leyen, has not said how the Fund would be financed.
“I appreciate the Commission President-elect’s proposal for a Just Transition Fund. This fund must be designed to mitigate the social, socio-economic and environmental impact of structural change in European coal regions. However, this fund would have to be financed through additional resources and not from the envelope foreseen for the European Structural and Investment Funds. The funding should be closely interlocked with cohesion policy. This additional funding could then be used to strengthen the ERDF and ESF programmes for these NUTS 2 regions over the next seven years” continued EPP-CoR rapporteur, Mark Speich (EPP/DE).
A high-level conference organised organized whiting the European Week of Regions and Cities – ‘Coal Regions in Transition’ – included national ministers and regional leaders from 11 coal regions in eight member states, together with Günther Oettinger, the European Commissioner for Budget and Human Resources.
“Support for new socio-economic perspectives in coal regions has to start now – it is too late to act when the economic situation in coal regions has deteriorated.” Started Mr. Speich the event as moderator.
Günther Oettinger, Commissioner for Budget & Human Resources highlighted the need of “fresh money, to ensure co-financing through European resources until the end of the year. Now is the time to open the door for change”.
During the debate, participant emphasise that support should not come only through the Cohesion Policy, but the EU should allow national, regional and local governments extra leeway to support businesses affected by the move away from coal.
Mr Reiner Haseloff, Minister President Saxony-Anhalt, Germany underlined that decentralisation is the key word in the process and only by working together and without competition between de 41 regions, the transformation of coal regions will be possible and effective.
The 41 regions want to be sure that the new fund will not simply be repurposed from other income streams in the EU budget, resulting in cuts to their allowances from structural or agricultural programs. Representatives of these regions also agreed that EU’s rules on state aid, which are due to expire in 2020, should be revised to “ensure that coal regions have sufficient flexibility to enable them to phase out coal in a socially and economically viable way” as stated in Mr. Speich opinion adopted at the CoR plenary earlier the day.
“Just Transition Fund should be made out of fresh money and not benefit from the Cohesion Policy budget. Not only should it assist coal regions, but also regions that no longer extract coal and suffer serious post-coal structural problems. The Fund should be of a fair size” said Jerzy Kwieciński, Poland’s finance and investment minister.
The representatives of the coal regions sent a clear message of unity and concluded that only with new financial resources and a strong cooperation between EU, national, regional and local level, engaging civil society and citizens we will be able to achieve long-term solutions for the socio-economic transformation of Europe’s coal regions.