Frans Timmermans in discussion panel at the Katowice European Economic Congress

Met dank overgenomen van Europese Commissie (EC), gepubliceerd op donderdag 3 september 2020.

Thank you Mr. President,

Thank you for inviting me. I am really sorry I am not physically in Katowice, I would have loved to be there. I was very much looking forward to visiting the region. In the course of my introduction you will understand why.

As you said, Mr. President, it has been ten months since we presented the European Green Deal. It is a transformative agenda where we will combine policies to tackle the enormous challenge of climate change, to reverse biodiversity loss, and to eliminate pollution.

But, as you've also said, Mr President, it is much more than that.

The Green Deal is Europe's new growth strategy. It is a commitment also, and I think this is important to Katowice and the people working there, to a socially fair transition, to leave no citizen and no region behind. If we leave citizens or regions behind, the transition will not happen. The transition will happen in a fair way or it will not happen, because people will then not accept it.

History has demonstrated now and again that those who innovate, those who think ahead and adapt early, reap the biggest benefits from a global economy. I think the last 30 years in Poland have proven that point very clearly.

That is why we have set out to become the world's first climate neutral continent by 2050. It is an announcement we made to the global investment community: Europe is the best place in the world for new, sustainable business. And let me remind you of the fact that we're also in the middle of an industrial revolution that will need adaptation anyway, and transformation anyway.

As cities around the world are exposed to deadly levels of air pollution, the fish in our oceans are suffocated by plastics, and droughts and floods affect our basic needs for food and security all over the world, we have to chart a new course for our European economy.

But we also need to do it in a way which promotes social fairness and allows all members of society to benefit from the change.

I think we need to be very strongly committed to this if we want to succeed.

Our first Green Deal initiative this year was a proposal to establish a Just Transition Fund and a Just Transition Mechanism. It can generate 100 billion euros of investments in coal and carbon intensive regions over the next seven years.

This transition has to have regions, such as Silesia, on board. So far we have seen a strong sense of determination to build a better future in this region and in other coal regions in Europe. All regions are preparing their transition plans. And we need to be part of that preparation and show our solidarity very clearly.

There is no turning away from this transition. Having spoken to all these regions, nobody disputes that. It's the nature of the transition that is part of the discussion.

Earlier this year, we proposed a European Climate Law, to turn our political commitment to become the world's first climate-neutral continent into a legal obligation.

In July, we adopted an EU strategy to integrate energy sectors; heating, transport, industry, electricity and gas, into a single energy system. Hydrogen should play a key role in this process. We have set ourselves a target to install at least 6 GW of renewable hydrogen electrolysers in the EU already by 2024, so in four years time, and to scale it up to 40 GW by 2030. And if we can get our international partners, our neighbours to join this effort we even have two times 40 GW by 2030.

I see great potential in Poland not only for hydrogen but also for biogas and offshore wind where Poland can become a champion on a European scale. We will present our offshore energy strategy later this year to support investments and facilitate large international projects on the Baltic Sea.

I really count on Poland to lead the way. And if I see the uptake of solar energy in Poland which is a big pleasant surprise I think Poland is already leading the way.

We will also soon propose our plan for increasing Europe's climate target for 2030. As we do so, we will open up the discussion on how to implement it in a way which is socially fair, protects the most vulnerable and respects the spirit of solidarity. We will need to think how to best reform the EU Emissions Trading System and how to reform our sectoral policies on renewables, energy efficiency, transport, and land use.

Again I believe that in Europe, we can lead by example.

The EU will continue to promote and encourage ambitious climate policies across the world. To make sure that we are not the only ones on this path we will continue to engage with the economies of the G20 that are responsible for 80% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

But we also have to be pragmatic.

As long as differences in climate ambition levels around the world persist, there is a risk of carbon leakage and therefore a risk that climate action at the EU level is undermined. That is why we will propose a carbon border adjustment mechanism to ensure a level playing field among the world's producers.

One thing is clear, the world is changing at an unprecedented pace.

Only as recently as 10 years ago, coal was the cheapest source of electricity in almost all European countries. Today, solar and wind energy delivers the lowest cost electricity everywhere in Europe, putting coal plants and the coal industry out of business. Last year coal consumption in Europe shrank by 25%! Which is the fastest decline in modern history.

The page of the fossil fuel economy is turning. The market itself is already moving away. This year a number of oil and gas majors announced they would move away from fossil fuel production and focus on climate neutral investments.

These are the hard facts and the underlying economics. This is not based on ideology. It's just an analysis of where the world is going.

As we move ahead with the Green Deal we will not forget that not everyone in Europe has the same starting point. Countries like Poland have been bearing the weight of past decisions, taken in different political systems, which made hard coal and lignite the cornerstone of your industrial development in. But this has to be and can be overcome.

15 years ago, Poland was inspired by the economic growth in Ireland, the Celtic Tiger. Today Poland's economic success is a source of inspiration for countries like Ukraine and Belarus, which had the same starting points three decades ago. And by the way, as a sideline, let me say how much I admire and appreciate, the support given by the Polish people to the Belarus people who are craving for democracy.

Poland has gone through major economic and political transitions successfully since 1989. Anyone who says that the Green Deal transition is too difficult for this country has not read history carefully and is underestimating its potential.

The way I see Poland reacting right now, in terms of adaptation, in terms of looking for new possibility, it is really inspirational. And I think it is completely underestimated other parts of Europe. Poland a country of engineers, the engineer density of your country is going to be an enormous asset in the economic transformation that is coming.

But even having said all that this does not mean that things will be easy.

We will have to roll up our sleeves to make sure that this transition is socially fair.

And there is no other region in Europe today where just transition is more important than in Silesia. 78,000 people are employed in the coal industry. For many households here, this industry is the main source of income. I've seen this in my life in my own country. Both my grandfathers were coal miners. We have lived through this. So I know how difficult it is to manage a transition such as this successfully.

We will need to work together across different levels of government and across party lines to provide enough opportunities, secure jobs and bring investments where they are needed most.

This is more, much more than a local challenge. Just transition is our common European goal. And I want to say that for me personally Silesia is the benchmark of whether we are able to do this or not. I will do everything I can, devote all my energy, to make sure that Silesia becomes a showcase. I will work tirelessly with the Polish authorities, local, regional, and national, to make this a success.

But it's also in other places. Western Macedonia in Greece, Maritza in Bulgaria or Lausitz in Germany, all these regions where coal has become the cornerstone have to look for new opportunities.

You can't just pull the plug on 50 or 70 years of industrial history.

We understand that, and we won't pull the plug. That's why the Just Transition is our top priority.

The Just Transition Mechanism we adopted is composed of three pillars.

Under the first pillar, the Just Transition Fund will provide grants for revitalisation, economic diversification, reskilling and for affordable clean energy.

Under the second pillar, private investors will be able to benefit from affordable credits from the European Investment Bank, through a dedicated Just Transition Scheme under InvestEU.

Finally, under the third pillar, we will set up a new public sector loan facility with the EIB backed by EU grants.

To gain access to this funding Member States will have to present Territorial Just Transition Plans which demonstrate the timeline for transition in coal or carbon-intensive regions, identify the challenges and propose a vision for the way forward.

Poland is clearly set to be the largest beneficiary of the Just Transition Mechanism. I really count on the Polish coal regions and the Polish Government to come forward with an ambitious Just Transition Plan, to help coal regions in this country reinvent themselves.

Unmanaged transitions leave long-term scars: structural decline, unemployment, depopulation. That is why it is so important that all coal regions in Poland start planning their transition now. And I think they've already started. Now, we still have the chance to decide how we move. The longer you wait, the less choices you have, and the more choices will be forced on us. Because we cannot stop the clock on climate change, nor on the industrial revolution that is happening.

There is no silver bullet here, no single blueprint we can use in all coal regions, but previous experiences show that this transition has to be home grown if we want it to bear fruit.

That is why the Just Transition Fund should be owned by the regions, owned by the stakeholders, and they should all be involved at all stages of this process. This includes trade unions, NGOs, civil society organisations, they all have to sign up and own the Just Transition Plans.

I know these are challenging times to prepare for a major restructuring effort of the coal industry. I've also seen the discussions in Poland over the summer. The pandemic exacerbates the difficulties.

I want to make it clear that the European Union will support you this process. The Just Transition Mechanism should help families in places like Ruda Śląska or Konin where jobs in coal and lignite mines are at risk.

We want to make the transition just. But we also have to make sure it is a transition. And I am optimistic, especially for the coal regions in Europe. You have industry in your DNA, a skilled labour force, experienced technicians and workers who wake up early and work hard day in and day out. And your universities and institutions are turning out engineers, top world class engineers, at a huge rate. We need this work force to put their energy behind the Green Deal, behind new industries like offshore wind, hydrogen, battery manufacturing or large scale building renovation.

We have the funds to support the transition as well.

In July, the European Council agreed on our recovery plan for Europe worth 750 billion euros, which will raise money on the financial markets to fight the worst economic crisis ever, and we will fight it together. It will support the hardest hit regions and economic sectors, while investing in a green, digital and resilient future.

This recovery plan comes on top of our EU budget. Combined, they provide unprecedented financial firepower of 1.8 trillion euros. This is almost 13% of the annual European GDP that we now invest in Europe's future.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Europe needs the Polish industrial powerhouse to make the Green Deal a reality. And the deal we propose can give a new life to European coal regions. It is a way to save jobs not for years but for decades to come.

The recovery plan gives us a unique opportunity to restart our economy and to invest in our children's future.

If we are united, we will recover faster from this crisis than if we do it on our own. So let's start our work together, let's start it today.

Thank you very much.