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The Challenge of Structural Change: Full power for Brandenburg

More than one-tenth of the total energy consumed in Germany is produced in Brandenburg. With a mix of renewable and conventional energy, Brandenburg must be a reliable supplier of affordable and eco-friendly electrical energy from domestic sources. Therefore, it is necessary to set the right course at the European level.

I am the coordinator of the EPP (European People´s Party Group) in the European Parliament Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE). In this position, I have succeeded together with my colleagues from the EPP Group, to implement the structural development measures that strive for social and economic stability from the outset.

The central question should be how the transformation to a new energy system creates new employment opportunities. To achieve this we need a policy that stimulates innovation, new capital investments, and facilitates qualifications. An important part of this has to be projects proposed by the regions, funded by the European Commission, to stimulate these developments.

Support by the European Union

Already today, there are European funds available for regions facing structural changes due to climate protection. These funds are part of the so-called cohesion policy. It accounts now for around twenty percent of the total financial amount that is consisted of the long-term EU budget 2021-2027 and the Next Generation EU recovery fund (NGEU). The European Parliament will continue to strongly emphasize the support for regions, which are affected by industrial transformation.

That requires a consistent strategy for every affected region, e.g. a Structural Change Plan for the Lusatia Coal-Mining Region or the so-called “Coal Regions in Transition Platform“ – a program of the European Commission, specially designed to support certain regions in their efforts for structural change. “The Coal Regions in Transition Platform” is an initiative proposed by the EPP group from the very start and should enable sustainable climate protection through a fair procedure. All 41 coal regions are actively working in cooperation with each other. Through constructive dialogue at the European level, the structural change can be future-oriented and designed to yield maximum economic opportunities for the regions (e.g. the Lusatia Coal-Mining Plan). The regions can speak out with one voice to call for investments, infrastructure, research, innovations, and further education programs to achieve global competitiveness through the settlement of companies in such coal-mining regions. The participation of the regions is stimulated through the shared network, shaping the structural change through the exchange of knowledge and experience, as well as improving the access to technical assistance and financial instruments.

To manage the whole process, everybody needs to cooperate. Hence, I demand that the state government, the regions and the European Union agree on the Lusatia Plan. Every gigawatt (GW) of power plant capacity being switched off must be compensated with government subsidies to investments. Thus, industrial output of the same value can be possible. A study about the future hydrogen energy economy in Lusatia (supported by “the Future Workshop Lusatia” and “the Economic Region Lausatia LLC”) outlines a plan to replace 6000 megawatts lignite-based blocks with 24 hydrogen plants with the capacity of 250 megawatts each by 2038. Thereby, the preservation of the industrial capacity and the energy productions would be in ratio 1:1 according to the Lusatia formula. In any case, Brandenburg should be in a position to maintain its strong future status in the energy industry.

EU Funding in numbers

In the EU’s multiannual financial framework for the current period 2021-2027, Germany has 15.5 billion euros at its disposal. For the German transition regions, 8.5 billion euros in funding are provided. The state of Brandenburg will receive 1.24 billion euros from the two funds: ERDF and ESF+, which is in total 34 million euros more than in the previous funding period.

Brandenburg will also receive funding from the “Just Transition Fund” (JTF) – set up for a fair transition in the context of structural change. The exact distribution of 2.24 billion euros of the JTF within Germany is still pending. Brandenburg receives a further 64 million euros from the ReactEU Program. All these funds are intended to support Brandenburg and Germany by the implementation of green and digital transformation with special consideration of the social dimension.

The future of coal in Brandenburg

With a share of 23 %, lignite is still an important pillar of the German electricity supply network. Additionally, surface mining, electricity generation as well as many jobs dependent on these branches shape the economic structure of whole regions – like Lusatia.

It is not a matter of the ideologically questioning of the necessary expansion of renewable energy sources, but it is rather about the issue of proportionality.

Changes to the present status should not only be assessed on a basis of the climate protection goals and possible CO2-decoupling. With the upgrade of renewable energy sources in Brandenburg, the focus cannot lie only on a numerical evaluation. Important questions such as the security of the supply system and the system integration are to be considered. It is evident that the necessary upgrade of the electricity grid is not keeping pace with the development of renewable energy facilities.

It leads to the issue that Brandenburg has some of the highest electricity prices in Germany. It is important to me that energy is still affordable for the people of Brandenburg!

I see a lot of potential in research and innovation. Unfortunately, Brandenburg was placed in 2015 fourth from last among the federal states when it comes to research and development activities. Nevertheless, our state has significant potential since it has high-performing and active universities and research institutions.

To achieve our climate goals, we need to phase-out coal. This phase-out and the structural transformations involved must take place fairly and with the involvement of all relevant actors. Following the resolutions of the Platform for Coal Regions in Transition, regions like Lusatia should be at the wheel as model regions since they pay the greatest price for this transition. The EU provides maximum support to these “most affected areas”. It should be allowed to the regions to share their expertise and innovative solutions, learning from each other. The goal is to keep collateral damage as low as possible and to optimally deploy available resources for structural change, among other: existing connections to the industrial infrastructure such as railways or road transport, high capacity and potential of the energy networks, a motivated and competent workforce as well as enough opportunities for new enterprises to settle or develop in our region. The economic opportunities of Brandenburg are dependent on the possibility to create feasible and qualitative solutions. Much more than the timeline, what really counts is the constructive dialogue between and with the coal regions.