Structural change Lausitzrunde (“Lusatian Round”) as European model

Weisswasser. A meeting of the coal regions from four countries is scheduled for September in Weißwasser. The WWF is on board. By Christian Köhler

Anyone who believes that Lusatia is the only region in Europe to be affected by the coal phase-out is mistaken. There are 40 coal-producing regions on the continent alone, all of which are on the verge of change. Because the coal phase-out is coming faster for some and later for others. For decades, coal mining has been a source of work and identity, a guarantor of prosperity and an energy supplier. Now entire regions have to adapt to upheavals.

The fact that Germany wants to solve its problems primarily with money – the federal government is providing 40 billion euros by 2038 – is not only viewed critically in Lusatia. “We demand that visible things finally happen,” says Weißwasser’s Mayor Torsten Pötzsch, pointing out that larger cities benefit from coal money, but that rural areas have so far been left empty-handed.

Nevertheless, other European regions can only dream of this. In Bulgaria, for example, an open-cast mine has been closed overnight. Drebkau’s Mayor Paul Köhne (CDU), who was a member of the Lausitzrunde at the beginning of June, reports on this. “It was frightening what we saw there,” Köhne told the RUNDSCHAU. Entire cities are depopulated in the region around Pernik. “We were in a big school, where only 26 pupils were still studying, thousands moved away, skyscrapers are empty and people are waiting for the big investor, who surely won’t come so soon”, the Drebkau city boss tells us.

A similar picture emerges in Greece. Weißwasser’s Lord Mayor Torsten Pötzsch was there in September 2018 to meet with local representatives and miners. “We want to create an exchange and learn from each other,” explains Torsten Pötzsch, who is active in the Lausitzrunde as spokesman for the Saxon part of Lusatia. Greece has not yet announced a coal phase-out. Without coal there would be no work, certainly no well-paid work – a problem that Lusatia also faces.
Greece covers 30 percent of its electricity needs with lignite, but the provincial town of Kozani between Thessaloniki and Albania has problems – even without the Greek crisis. Pötzsch speaks of a development from an industrial to an agricultural region. Just a few years ago, 50 percent of the Greek electricity came from this region; today, the power plants are outdated and prosperity is gradually disappearing. The state has hardly any money to renature the holes in the landscape that the open-cast mine has dug here. And unemployment is on the rise – as is environmental pollution.

As in Lusatia, some Greek mayors do not want to stand idly by and watch development continue. “In Greece, an alliance similar to the Lausitzrunde has also been formed,” says Pötzsch. It had been recognised that something could be done as an amalgamation of several municipal representatives. The Lausitzrunde is therefore in regular contact with the Greeks, and soon – in autumn – also with the Poles around the Katowice coal region. There, too, an alliance is being considered. There will be an on-site visit in November.
In Bulgaria this is still a long way off. “The State does not care about the region,” says Paul Köhne, “and the mayors hardly show any initiative of their own. And they could learn from the Lusatians, he says. Learning from each other is the aim of a project funded with 660,000 euros by the nature conservation organisation WWF. “We promote exchange between these regions. Our goal is just transition strategies that make the regions fit for the future and protect the climate,” explains Federal Environment Minister Svenja Schulze (SPD), whose ministry co-finances the WWF project.

“We are organising the dialogue between the coal countries Bulgaria, Poland and Greece with Germany and the EU Commission,” explains Juliette de Grandpré of the WWF. It is a matter of exchanging solutions and not repeating mistakes made by one region elsewhere. The WWF coordinator hopes that “when the coal regions network at local level they will have a stronger influence on the EU”.

The environmental organisation sees the challenge as “that coal can only be phased out with acceptance”, so it shouldn’t say “trade union against climate advocates, but how the social question can be answered with climate protection”, says Juliette de Grandpré. A first concept of how this can be achieved for the Silesian coal region was presented at the Climate Conference in Katowice. Here, too, reference is made to the EU, which provides additional financial resources.

In order to further promote the exchange, a forum is scheduled for September this year in Weißwasser, where mayors from the four European countries will meet. “Before that, there will also be a tour of the Lusatian territories such as Greece, Bulgaria or the Ruhr area,” says Torsten Pötzsch. He thinks it’s good that the WWF is organising study trips to the European coal mining regions. After all, this would not only bring local politicians into contact with others, but also trade unionists, employers, non-governmental organisations and climate protectors into contact with the problems on the ground.

Original article here