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Against earlier exit: why the eastern countries are dependent on coal


Federal Minister of Economics Habeck also wants to talk about an earlier phase-out of coal in the East. After the first reactions from Saxony it is clear: He will not be welcomed to the talks with open arms.

Saxony’s Prime Minister Michael Kretschmer reacted promptly to Robert Habeck’s energetic New Year’s offensive. In an interview with “Bild”, the CDU politician said: “I don’t understand why the Federal Minister of Economics opens this discussion on the first day of the year. Germany has an energy problem.”

And Saxony has a problem with structural change. This is also a reason for the Saxon reluctance to accelerate it.

“Structural stumble” instead of change?

The federal government is spending 17 billion euros on the Saxon and Brandenburg side for structural change in the Lusatian mining area alone. But the effects have so far been rather manageable. The two major research institutions that are to come to Saxony only exist on paper so far. And so it is with many other projects.

A small inquiry from the state parliament member Antonia Mertsching (Die Linke) to the Saxon state government revealed that only 14 structural change projects will actually be implemented by autumn, in addition to four state projects.

The district administrator of the Görlitz district, Stephan Meyer (CDU), specifies for Lusatia: Around 600 million euros in funding have been applied for so far, around 100 million have already been approved and only 1.4 million euros have already been paid out. Left-wing politician Mertsching speaks of a “structural stumble” in view of this interim result. The situation is similar in the central German district, which is located south of Leipzig and in parts in Saxony-Anhalt.

Structural change money for the historic steam locomotive

The deputy head of the Institute for Economic Research in Dresden, Joachim Ragnitz, also expressed his opinion rbb critical of the previous use of taxpayers’ money for structural change: “Actually, the structure of the Structural Strengthening Act went wrong, namely that corporate investments are not funded, but instead there are many soft location factors that do not create jobs.”

For example, the tourist information in Görlitz is being digitized with funds for the structural change, the dam in Quitzdorf is being renovated or a historic steam locomotive on the Zittau narrow-gauge railway is being converted for light oil firing. Can thousands of jobs be compensated for that will be lost as a result of the coal phase-out?

Fewer mining jobs

The employment factor lignite is no longer as important for Lusatia as it was years ago. According to current figures from the Federal Employment Agency, around 8,000 people are employed in mining in the Lusatian mining area, 3,000 of them on the Saxon side. According to these figures, a total of 1.5 percent of employees in Saxon Lusatia work in mining.

Things looked very different 30 years ago: around 65,000 people were still employed in the Lusatian lignite mines. Perhaps this also has something to do with the fact that unemployment is still highest in eastern Saxony. Structural change has actually been taking place in Lusatia for decades – and not in a positive way.

Around 8,000 people work in the Lusatian lignite mining area, 3,000 of them in Saxony.

Image: dpa

For Kretschmer, it’s all about credibility

That is why the question of phasing out coal in Saxony is also a very emotional one. Saxony’s Prime Minister Kretschmer is under a political and historical pressure that some politicians from the West can hardly understand. For Kretschmer, who himself comes from Lusatia and who lost his direct mandate in the Bundestag to the AfD years ago, his credibility is also at stake.

After all, he promised the Saxon voters: The coal compromise negotiated by the federal government applies. The coalition agreement signed by the CDU, Greens and SPD in Saxony states: “We want to gradually phase out coal by 2038. (…) We want to achieve this goal without social disruption, but with many new, future-proof jobs. The people in Lusatia and in the central German area expect us to continue to stand by their side and not let our buddies down.”

A rift through the Kenya coalition

Against this background, it is hard to imagine that Kretschmer would have any great desire to negotiate with Habeck about an early exit from coal in Saxony in 2030. Even if the green coalition partner in Saxony puts a lot of pressure on it.

For example, the state executive writes in a statement: “We expect Prime Minister Kretschmer and all East Prime Ministers to recognize the economic and climate-scientific reality: by 2030 at the latest, lignite will no longer be economical and also no longer compatible with the climate targets in the energy sector. (…) We criticize Prime Minister Michael Kretschmer’s refusal to accept the talks offered by Economics Minister Robert Habeck.” The rift running through the Saxon Kenya coalition could hardly be expressed more clearly.