Despite the inauguration of the Fund for Mining and coal Regions, it is not known whether funds for this purpose will be in the new budget of the European Union. It is important because Poland may be its biggest beneficiary – writes Bartłomiej Sawicki, journalist of BiznesAlert.pl.
Coal is currently mined in 41 regions in 12 EU countries, making it the most widespread fossil fuel in the EU that drives the European economy. In addition, the coal sector provides jobs for around 240 thousand people, including 180 thousand in coal and lignite mines, and 60 thousand in power plants of this type. This fuel also accounts for almost a quarter of total EU electricity production and is an important fuel in industrial processes such as steel production. This is still happening despite the decline in coal consumption in Europe. The persistent, still significant, share of coal in industrial processes in the EU is in contradiction with EU’s postulate to reduce CO2 emissions.
Decreasing coal consumption has led to closing mines in many regions across Europe. To make sure that no regions are left behind towards a climate-neutral economy, in December 2017, the Commission launched a ‘platform for regions in transition’. The platform is a key part – as emphasized by the Commission – of the coal-intensive regions initiative, included as a non-legislative element of the Clean Energy for All Europeans package.
The platform for coal regions in transition is designed to provide them with technical assistance and advice during transition for adaptation to their needs. The area of assistance is strategy preparation and management as well as project identification.
In February 2019, the European Commission launched an office responsible for managing platform events and meetings, technical support and materials. Pilot projects are currently underway in 14 regions: Silesia (Poland), Western Macedonia (Greece), Trencin (Slovakia), Moravia and Silesia, Usti and Karlovy Vary (Czech Republic), Jiu Valley (Romania), Asturias, Aragon, Castile and León and Castile-La Mancha (Spain), Brandenburg, Saxony and Saxony Anhalt (Germany).
Witold Naturski, Deputy Director of the European Commission Representation in Poland took part in the expert conference organized by the Polish Wind Energy Association on the fund for the transformation of regions, which took place on Wednesday, August 7. He explained that the size of this fund is to be 5 billion euros. The problem, however, is that any new instrument to appear under the EU budget must be presented before it is designed. The said fund appeared during the end of the budgetary perspective. Therefore, funds were sought under already approved funds. However, this initiative allowed for shifts in operational programs at the level of member states as part of member states’ decisions. Projects can, therefore, be eligible for existing EU funds.
Naturski noted that the Commission is aware of the energy transformation effort and challenges that residents of mining and post-mining regions have to face. – In 10 years, coal mining and consumption have fallen by 35 percent in the EU, i.e. by a third. Poland as the largest consumer and producer of this raw material is exposed to the biggest consequences resulting from this fact – said a representative of the Commission, while pointing out that the transformation in Silesia has been taking place from the ’90s. In the years 1997–2001 25 mines were closed, the current government has committed to close 8 out of 22 existing. About 100 thousand people directly work in the mining sector, which is about 2 percent of the population of Upper Silesia.
It was the European Parliament that recommended the Commission to allocate EUR 5 billion to the fund in the future budget for 2021-2027. The idea is to create a separate fund dedicated to energy transformation. The fight for it is still going on, and even though declarations by EU politicians indicate that it will rise, this is not yet final. Currently, Silesia has obtained 100 euro million under the Regional Operational Program. A total of 30 projects were submitted to it, and 6 were approved by the so-called Country Teams, i.e. teams assessing these projects. Only one of the submitted projects in Silesia, and thus the revitalization of the Silesian Park, once a revitalized area, will consume 50 million euros. However, there is still a long way to go. For example, the Czech Republic has found EU funds of EUR 230 million under operational programs that will be allocated to regeneration. Nautrski noted that in this respect it is also worth considering other regions in Poland, including Lower Silesia and Greater Poland. Germany has already gathered four regions around this program.
What is important, focusing on the problems of post-mining regions in Europe shows that coal is still an important element of the economic landscape of our continent. Out of 41 coal and coal regions, 19 were selected for pilotage, and it is currently being implemented in 8 in 12 countries. – This shows that even “Old Europe” has not yet completely gone away from coal. The departure is progressing, but it will be caused by objective factors, such as a decrease in the importance of coal in the economy, and not by administrative decisions – emphasized the representative of the Commission.
Although the discussion on this program has been going on for two years, it is still not clear whether the funds from the new EU budget will be used to spend post-mining regions under this instrument. It should be remembered, however, that these funds cannot be spent on the renewed development of coal, and this provision can probably be found in the EU budget that will apply to this instrument. Jerzy Buzek, former Prime Minister and former chairman of the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy, one of the promoters of the Fund for post-mining regions, warned during the last Program Forum of the Civic Coalition that it is still uncertain whether and in what shape the funds for this special fund will be secured.
However, one can be of good cheer. During the recent visit of the new President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, Poland was to obtain full support for the creation of this special fund under the EU budget. The chairwoman was to express her support for the European Parliament’s efforts so that the fund could ultimately be funded directly from EU funds reserved for this purpose.