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Extraordinary Employers' Group Meeting Beyond coal: From black to green economy. The Moravian-Silesian Region as a testing ground – Opening Speech

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Dear Stefano,
Dear colleagues,

Good afternoon, I am really pleased to be here with you today. I would like to congratulate group 1 and the Czech presidency for the organization of this very timely and highly topical conference. Given the current energy crises, energy transition for coal and other carbon-intensive regions is a pressing challenge for our businesses, citizens and communities. And what better place to have this discussion during the Czech Presidency in Ostrava – the former ‘Steel Heart of the Republic’.

Following the Ukraine war, the EU’s independence from third countries’ energy has become one of the most urgent political goals. Decarbonising our economy will contribute to our energy independence and consequently it will strengthen Europe’s resilience and global competitiveness. Achieving the energy transition will foster security of energy supply, will help keeping energy prices affordable and more predictable. At the same time, we have to be mindful that businesses currently face – still – the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic AND of the war in Ukraine.

Let’s be clear: The EESC has condemned the war in Ukraine from day 1 and fully supports the sanctions against Russia. But it becomes immanent that Europe – and our businesses – pay also a price for this war. According to the September OECD economic forecast, the disruption in energy markets and the decline in real income will weaken growth in the second half of 2022 and the first quarter of 2023 – if not far longer.

Without sufficient energy supply diversification and orderly demand reductions, shortages could push up global energy prices even higher, hit financial conditions and require a temporary rationing of gas use by businesses. This could push many countries into a full-year recession in 2023. Growth would also be weakened in 2024. Let us hope that a joint European effort will prove this forecast wrong, but let’s also be aware of the risks we are facing and let’s work on a Green transition at a pace businesses and societies are able to follow and with accompanying measures allowing for global competitiveness and innovation. The fact remains that our industries face the pressure of energy transition while Europe’s economy is slowing more than anticipated and inflation is predicted to remain at high levels.

While I focused so far on many challenges Europe is currently facing, I strongly believe that the green transition also provides opportunities. The Moravian-Silesian Region serves as a leading example for the energy transition of coal regions leading to an innovative and technological resilient future. In the EU, coal accounts for about 20% of total electricity production. It also provides jobs to around 230,000 people in mines and power plants across 31 regions and 11 EU countries. While coal remains a primary fuel in the European energy mix, the path is clear: the transition to cleaner forms of energy and innovative technologies. The energy transition towards a low-emission economy will affect many sectors, and prominently the coal industry.

We all know there is only one way forward – towards a greener and more sustainable Europe. At the same time, we must be realistic and find pragmatic solutions for the energy transition. We must bring together the relevant stakeholders, share our knowledge across industries and sectors and learn from examples such as the Moravian-Silesian Region. That will be key to the success of the energy transition – in particular for coal and energy intensive industries. Businesses must be seen as part of this solution.

I strongly believe in the huge potential that Europe has in the field of renewable energies. It must be identified as accurately as possible. Targeted public financing and private investments are key to the success of the energy transition. Access to available public funding such as the Just Transition Fund must be simple and widely promoted. This fund aim is to balance the socio-economic impacts of the transition specifically in fossil-fuel dependent and carbon-intensive regions. Regions should be encouraged to change, stimulate innovative development, maintain investment attractiveness and create opportunities for employment and a decent life. Both, public and private investments are urgently needed and at a bigger scale – in particular in Research and Innovation as well as in education, up- and reskilling.

‘There is nothing permanent except change” is said by Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher who lived 2500 years ago. We how face one of the biggest changes in our economies and societies. Let’s join forces to make the green transition a success – for Europe’s strategic autonomy and competitiveness, for a greener and more sustainable economy and society. 

Thank you, I very much look forward to today’s discussions.

Source: EESC