Early coal exit: where there is great distrust

Status: 10/28/2021 3:54 a.m.

When the SPD, the Greens and the FDP negotiate an early end to coal-fired power generation in the coalition negotiations, fear is spreading in the Central German lignite district. Past trauma is still present.

The Central German Revier is the smallest of the three remaining lignite mining areas in Germany. It is located in the south of Saxony-Anhalt and extends into Saxony. At the moment, the coalition negotiations in Berlin are being viewed particularly critically. The possible traffic light partners want to debate an early coal phase-out, which could take place by 2030.

Saxony-Anhalt’s Prime Minister Reiner Haseloff does not sit at the Berlin negotiating table when the SPD, Greens and FDP are negotiating a coalition. However, the CDU politician governs himself in a coalition with the SPD and FDP and so he can at least call on his government partners to protect Saxony-Anhalt’s interests in the coal phase-out.

The fact that an early end to coal-fired power generation for the Central German district would worsen the already difficult economic situation is undisputed in Saxony-Anhalt’s state government, but his cabinet colleagues from the SPD and FDP are currently not fighting as loudly as Haseloff.

Solitary reminders

But Haseloff also finds little support nationwide. When the coal compromise with the 2038 exit target was negotiated, the prime ministers of the countries concerned demonstrated great unity. Now, however, Saxony-Anhalt’s Prime Minister seems to be quite lonely with his warnings, only assisted by Saxony’s Prime Minister Michael Kretschmer, since the area also extends into Saxony.

The fear that the smallest remaining lignite region might be shut down first is old and it has received new nourishment from the Berlin exploratory paper.

Trauma structural change

If you want to see the excavators in action, you have to drive to Profen, southeast of Leipzig, on the state border between Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt. Prime Minister Haseloff and CDU top candidate Armin Laschet were here during the election campaign, but on a Sunday, probably to avoid critical questions from the buddies, as was speculated in the pit.

In general, one is extremely skeptical here, because the term “structural change” is by no means new in the region. At the time of the fall of the Wall, around 60,000 people were employed in lignite in the Central German mining area; in the 1990s it was around 8,000. In the meantime, the number of employees has fallen to around 2,500. Given these numbers, the vehemence of the debate is surprising, but it has something to do with trauma.

District Administrator Götz Ulrich: The mass layoffs in the 1990s had consequences that can still be felt today.

Image: MDR / Götz Ulrich

“Bleed out after the turnaround”

Götz Ulrich is the responsible district administrator and the district town of Naumburg, now a World Heritage Site, is half an hour’s drive from Profen. The mass layoffs in the 1990s had consequences that are still noticeable today, according to the CDU politician: “We were literally bled to death after the fall of the Berlin Wall,” he says. Young people, especially women and qualified people, went – to southern Germany, to western Germany. “They continued the prosperity there and here we are missing them everywhere. Not in companies, but also in cities and communities, as service providers in associations, in voluntary work, in civil society.”

Consequence of the shortage of births

The Burgenlandkreis is now one of those regions in Germany in which the demographic change is particularly pronounced. In the past ten years, the population has decreased by a further 16,000, not due to emigration, but as a result of the shortage of births.

If the coal excavators should be shut down earlier than the coal compromise provides, District Administrator Ulrich fears another wave of emigration. Saxony-Anhalt will receive 4.7 billion euros from the federal government over the next 15 years to cushion the structural change, but money alone cannot solve the problems. The years after the reunification showed that, when it was not possible in many regions to develop a self-sustaining economic basis despite the billions in funding.

“We’re not waiting for a big UFO”

It is 70 kilometers from Naumburg to the next boom region, namely Leipzig, too far away to benefit from the upswing there. In addition, the ICE route between Berlin and Munich now runs via Erfurt, so that Naumburg is largely disconnected from the ICE network. With the means of structural change, an S-Bahn connection is to be created between Leipzig and the Central German district. The number of commuters will increase significantly after the end of lignite, District Administrator Ulrich is pretty sure of that.

In any case, the district administrator is not hoping for large new settlements in the Burgenland district. The experience of the past 30 years shows that such large projects are not drawn to structurally weak regions. Porsche, for example, manufactures the “Panamera” at the gates of Leipzig and not Naumburg.

Ulrich does not have great expectations: “So we are not waiting for a big UFO that lands here and creates 10,000 jobs. Instead, we are relying on the further development of our companies in the food industry or in chemistry.” But that will probably not make up for the loss of well-paid jobs in lignite.

After all, the employer presidents of Saxony, Thuringia and Saxony-Anhalt have now called on the coalitionists in the federal government to refrain from an early coal exit. According to the call, the roadmap to phase out coal as a compromise between all social interest groups involved must endure. But the debate is not just about purely economic issues.

The mistrust remains

In the state elections in June of this year, the AfD won a single direct mandate in Saxony-Anhalt, namely in Zeitz, in the middle of the area. In the federal elections, too, the AfD was particularly strong in the coal region, while otherwise it was unable to secure any direct mandates in Saxony-Anhalt.

And so it is not surprising that Haseloff also speaks of political credibility and reliability when he is now resisting an earlier coal exit. However, he is not sitting at the negotiating table in Berlin, the same applies to his counterpart Kretschmer from Saxony. So there remains a mistrust.


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