Speech at the coal regions in transition high level dialogue in the European Parliament, Brussels. [CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY]
Dear President Buzek, Honourable Members, representatives of Coal Regions, dear stakeholders and colleagues.
Many thanks for hosting us in the European Parliament for this political session. And above all, I want to thank you, dear Jerzy, and your colleagues for the continuous support you are giving to the coal regions in transition initiative.
It is impressive to see what we have accomplished those past few months.
We have started working on the ground in three pilot regions (Silesia, Western Macedonia and Trencin).
We have launched this Platform. And I understand the past two days have showcased the strong commitment of Member States, regions and your stakeholders to bring concrete strategies and projects to the discussion table.
This is only the start.
To discuss the way ahead, I am very happy that representatives of the largest coal regions could join us today : Silesia (Poland), Western Macedonia (Greece), Trencin (Slovakia) but also Brandenburg, Saxony, North Rhine Westphalia In Germany, Jiu Valley in Romania, Moravia Silesia in Czech Republic, Castilla y Leon, Aragon and Asturias in Spain. I could continue.
Welcome to all !
We all know the importance of our joint work. It is fundamentally about achieving a "Just transition". Our common goal is to ensure that no region, no sector, no community, no worker is left behind in the process of energy or industrial transition.
We also know Europe's ability to lead the global energy transition depends not only on the front-runners. Our success also depends on making this fundamental transformation an inclusive one.
The point of departure is that we can and should help each other - to make sure Member States and regions create new jobs, upskilling and retraining workers, giving them new opportunities, can identify and develop growth sectors, that we can collectively deliver on our climate, energy and sustainability goals. We need it for youngsters to stay, invest in and reinvent the future of their regions.
Country Teams and Platform
When we launched this Initiative in Strasbourg last December last year we were clear that the Platform should support coal regions in achieving concrete goals. So this is not yet another forum of discussion. We wanted to give you a practical tool which can help you accelerate transition.
We also sent Teams of Experts from across the Commission to three Pilot Regions to reflect how we can help you design transition strategies, build a pipeline of projects, provide technical assistance and prepare already for sound implementation plans.
We went to Silesia in Poland, to Western Macedonia in Greece and to Trencin in Slovakia. We met with regional authorities, Ministries, Managing Authorities of EU funds, trade unions, industry, universities, research centres, our EU incubators (the KICs) and financial institutions to better understand your needs and to help you make a good use of EU funds and programmes to kick-start or accelerate the transition in your regions.
Together we have focused on setting out practical "quick win" projects in the regions, with the support of all available instruments. But also we are supporting your work on more long term strategies, which must be collectively owned.
Proof of our success: we now have requests to do the same work in other Member States and regions.
You can count on us to help bring this agenda forward, in response to incoming demands.
No one size-fits-all
Yesterday and today some of you presented transition strategies and projects.
As I mentioned last time there is no one-size-fits-all solution, or silver bullet for the transition. While there are 41 coal mining regions in 12 Member States, their challenges are definitely not identical. This is why we need to continue working on the ground, to see what areas of commonality and what specificities there are. I trust these two days have served this purpose.
You have brought forward a lot of new ideas and projects. Some regions are interested in developing geothermal and hydro energy in former coal mines, investing in e-mobility, digitalisation and data centres, building innovation parks and forming local energy communities.
Others are proposing to transition towards tourism and agricultural sector. You are also preparing strategies for improving air quality and developing advanced coal technologies.
Things are moving, and fast.
Subsidiarity and Partnership
This Initiative, the Platform, and the Country Teams, are here for you to build on, to develop and present your plans, share good practices and build robust partnerships.
The Commission does not aim to replace the Member States and regional authorities in steering this transition process. The ownership is yours to have.
This is why we have also asked the Member States to prepare their National Energy and Climate Plans as a matter of urgency, in consultation with all stakeholders, including at regional level.
This cannot be done is silos.
The Platform is accelerating a process whereby we all work better together to address the manifold challenges of the industrial transition of coal regions.
Funding for coal regions
This afternoon we are also here to talk about financing and investments.
We can - and should talk about - what happens after 2020 but transition has to unfold today, so let's first focus on the resources that we have.
352 billion euros – almost a third of the total EU budget – has been set aside for cohesion policy for 2014-2020, complemented by additional national public and private co-financing.
Low-carbon technologies are an important area for investment. Under the European Regional Development at least EUR 23 billion will be spent on transition to low-carbon economy between 2014 and 2020. We also have EUR 44 Bn that are foreseen under the smart specialisation strategies.
Today, with three more years left for project selection and three further years for actual implementation of projects, more than half of the funding is still available. Reallocation and reprogramming is possible, and desirable.
Horizon 2020 is also there to support breakthrough and disruptive technologies, and should be used to that end.
There are thus important remaining opportunities for quality projects to apply for funding in a wide range of areas, including in relation to structural and technological transformation in coal regions.
The Platform and the Country Teams are here to help you identify what you can do and how you could finance it.
Beyond projects we also need to address forcefully the social consequences of the industrial transition, and to this end, resort to the European Social Fund and the Globalisation Adjustment Fund.
The challenges faced by coal regions in transition – and by extension carbon intensive regions – should remain high on the agenda of the next multiannual financial framework and reinforced, mission –oriented, FP9.
Talking about financing, I am very much encouraged by the active involvement of the European Investment Bank (Vazil Hudak in your panel) and the World Bank (Michael Stanley in the next one).
To conclude, we have a busy year ahead. I want us to be able to demonstrate to our international partners at COP24 in Katowice that coal regions in transition present new opportunities for investments - and that we, in the EU, are genuinely leading the way to a "Just Transition".
I thank you all for your attention.