The World From Berlin Good Riddance to Coal Mining

After months of negotiations, the parties in Germany's ruling coalition have agreed close the last eight coal mines by 2018. It's high time the loss-making industry was axed, say German media commentators.


The last of Germany's coal mines will be shut down by 2018.
DPA

The last of Germany's coal mines will be shut down by 2018.

The German government has agreed to phase out the massive subsidies to the coal mining industryby 2018 at the latest. The industry has long been a bottomless pit, with the states and federal governments having to fork out €2.5 billion a year to prop it up.

The deal was hammered out between the ruling Grand Coalition parties, the conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) and the Social Democrats (SPD). It will lead to the eventual closure of eight coal mines, concentrated in the North West of the country, which currently employ 36,900 people. The coal they produce is much more expensive than imported coal, and only accounts for 5 percent of German energy needs.

The move should pave the way for the stock market flotation of the industrial group RAG which owns the mines. The money raised will be used to pay for the miners' pensions and the environmental clean-up.

The conservative daily Die Welt welcomes the decision to phase out German coal mining: "At first glance the planned phasing out of coal mining doesn’t seem to fit with current times: the price of natural resources is increasing to record levels throughout the world. Oil, gas, coal and ore have become valued luxury goods that bring undreamed-of prosperity to countries with ample supplies. Instead of phasing it out, these countries are increasing extraction. Only Germany is going in the opposite direction. After phasing out nuclear power, it now wants German coal mining to be a thing of the past. However, it is a long overdue step.

"German coal mining is not cost-effective in the foreseeable future. While the coal in German mines is up to 1,000 meters below ground, mining in Australia can take place in open pits. The price differential is enormous: imported coal costs €60 per ton, while that in Germany costs €200. And coal doesn’t play a significant role in energy policy any more: It accounts for only around 5 percent of energy needs -- of no importance for national energy security. That is why it is incomprehensible that the SPD had wanted to allow coal mining to continue indefinitely.

"Taxpayers have ploughed around €130 billion into German coal mining since the start of the coal crisis 50 years ago. A gigantic sum, one that could have been used to establish several top universities like Oxford or Harvard. But instead of supporting future technologies, the CDU and SPD preferred to support a wasteful industry giant in order to secure votes.

Business daily Handelsblatt writes that "luckily these are the final expensive twitches of coal mining. It shows the weaknesses of our political system: billions are uses to buy the votes of a few thousand voters … Coal mining has been a recipient of subsidies for 50 years. A sensational €135 billion has been spent on maintaining today's 35,000 jobs. The enormous environmental consequences will also cost billions after mining stops. Every single worker is supported with €70,000 from the state coffers, and every descent into the mine only causes economic and environmental damage … in eastern Germany, on the other hand, jobs were rigorously cut in potash and brown coal mines.

"However some miners are more equal than others -- socially secure, like civil servants. In comparison, all other workers and employees are vulnerable to the shifts of the economic cycle. However, the decision should be praised as a success by the grand coalition. Only together were the SPD and CDU able to ... end the insanity, even if it is with a very long breaking distance."

"But unfortunately it also shows, that one message as not got through: that Germany has to say goodbye to the vested interests of certain groups and increase the tempo of reform, in order to secure prosperity."

Left-leaning Berliner Zeitung is less enthusiastic about the passing of German coal mining: "The days of subsidized coal mining in Germany are numbered. In eleven years at the latest the last German pit will stop mining. In terms of supply considerations, this is regrettable, but it is not a hundred percent unlikely that, in the face of growing global energy needs in 15 or 20 years, the price of imported coal, which is currently so cheap compared to German coal, will increase dramatically, and that the German mining could once again be competitive.

"But neither the coal-producing federal states of North Rhine Westphalia and Saarland, nor the CDU party were prepared to cover such eventual risks by allocating billions in public resources."

The center-right Frankurter Allgemeine Zeitung welcomes the decision but questions the wisdom of not closing the mines earlier: "The federal government and the states want to finally put an end to the state financing of German coal mining. That is the good news. The bad news is that it will take another 11 years. The taxpayer will have to pay another €30 billion until then for the production of coal than can be imported at less than half the price. Thus a waste of money, disguised as a structural policy, is being continued."

"The decision had nothing to do with German energy supply security. Despite all climate risks, coal will remain a pillar of electricity supply for decades -- it is plentiful, cheap and available in politically secure regions. German coal only accounts for 5 percent of the country's energy needs, 10 percent of electricity generation. Even without coal from Dinslaken, Marl and Hamm, the lights in Germany are not going to go out."

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung examines the political implications of the decision: "At the first glance, the CDU and North Rhine-Westphalia's premier Jürgen Rüttgers look like the winners. Once the terms 'SPD,' 'Ruhr' and 'coal miner' seemed to be inseparable -- some SPD meetings could just have easily have taken place underground. Rüttgers has now split this alliance.

"In the long term, however, it could be a big opportunity for the Social Democrats: the head of the party in North-Rhine Westphalia, Hannelore Kraft, can now modernize the party without having to take the old ties into consideration and can open up the party to new issues and voter groups. That may take years but the chances of success look good -- in the end the Rüttgers government isn’t all that convincing."

-- Siobhán Dowling, 1:10 p.m. CET

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