PM Meets TU Leaders as Coal Miners Protest against Planned Mine Closures

Sofia, October 13 (BTA) - The influential Confederation of Independent Trade Unions in Bulgaria (CITUB) and the Podkrepa Labour Confederation held a rally in central Sofia to protest the planned closure of coal-fired power plants as required by the EU in keeping with its plans for decarbonization of the economy. Union leaders met with Prime Minister Stefan Yanev and ministers from his government.

At a news briefing after the meeting, Deputy Prime Minister Atanas Pekanov, who is in charge of the management of EU funding, said that Bulgaria will do its utmost to set the target date for closure of the coal plants as far in the future as possible.

He explained that setting a target date will unlock funding from the Just Transition Fund: a total of 2.4 billion leva, including 1.7 billion for the Maritsa coal basin. Prime Minister Yanev said these resources will help open new jobs. "If we continue to postpone the decisions, we will miss an opportunity to get considerable EU funding to use for a transition that is most likely inevitable," he said.

Pekanov said that the National Recovery and Resilience Plan, which the government will submit to the European Commission on Friday, provides for the establishment of a state-owned company, Conversion of Coal Regions, which will hire all workers whose contracts with energy and coal mining companies are terminated.

The transition from the coal industry will involve land reclamation and other activities that will create lots of jobs. "In this way the government will be able to control the process and give some security to people," said the Deputy Prime Minister.

CITUB leader Plamen Dimitrov told reporters after the meeting that the plan of the caretaker government is to fulfill the demand of CITUB and Podkrepa that the target date for the closure of the coal plants be no sooner than 20 years from now. "Whether it will be 2040 or 2043, as the miners protesting outside the government headquarters want, is a matter of negotiations," he added.

At a meeting between the government and the business community earlier this week, Pekanov said that the government intends to negotiate with the European Commission a target date in 2038 or 2040.

Dimitrov also said that the price of carbon emissions should be frozen at their current price and that the option for carbon capture and utilization, especially for the Maritsa coal plants.

The union leader warned that the protest of coal workers will be repeated when the new Parliament is elected and a government formed after the November 14 elections, "and it won't be the last protest".

Podkrepa leader DImiter Manolov described the meeting with the government "good and constructive". LN/

Source: Sofia