European Structural Change: First Meeting of the Trilateral Group in Paris

On July 2nd and 3rd, the French-German-Polish Forum on European Structural Change convened in Paris.

Members of a meeting sitting in a room, discussing.

As the European Union is embarking on its debate about its long-tern climate strategy until 2050, it becomes apparent that the continent as a whole lacks a clear vision on its sustainable energy transition. Yet this Europe-wide long-term energy and climate debate starting this autumn offers a number of important opportunities for countries facing vast energy challenges (e.g. overwhelming reliance on coal and/or nuclear). The discussion process can result in better long-term and cross-border climate and energy policy planning in Europe.

However, transformations in the energy sector and the vast innovation potential in the age of digitalization have also important implications on society as a whole and the wider economy. With it go the transformation of businesses, entire economic sectors and labor markets. A Europe-wide energy transition will only be politically sustainable if structural change policy is discussed in such a way that it offers concrete solutions to the most pressing issues for European citizens. Therefore, European countries struggling with similar structural change challenges can benefit from strategic dialogue about viable transition solutions, especially with regard to the question of how this transformation is structured, governed and organized.

For Poland, meeting a 30 percent electricity supply gap by 2030 brought about by the gradual shut-down of highly inefficient coal plants and the country’s overreliance on coal as a source of its electricity are perhaps the country’s greatest energy challenges. For France, the next decade will be decisive when it comes to modernizing and construction of new nuclear facilities and triggering large investments into renewable energy solutions. For Germany, often regarded as a frontrunner in transforming its energy system, the main challenge is to constrain energy costs and manage a socio-politically sound structural change process in its coal regions and automobile sector.

While these key challenges seem to vary greatly among the three countries, they all touch upon the very transformative and structural challenge that the energy transition entails. Therefore, the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung is facilitating a strategic dialogue on structural change amongst these three countries in 2018 and 2019. The group consisting of 5 participants per country does not only discuss challenges and solutions of mutual concern but also address misperceptions about each other’s energy policy thus paving the way for strengthening EU integration with an ambitious European energy policy as one of its crucial integration engines.

The first meeting of the group in Paris aimed to establish a common understanding of the task ahead and introduce the participants to the various country contexts for structural change in Poland, France and Germany. One of the main lessons from this meeting was that there are more similarities between our three countries than previously expected, especially between France and Poland. Both countries have a highly centralized and state-owned energy system and thus require similar approaches.

The members of the meeting on european structural change in Paris.

Another key lesson of the meeting is the realization of the necessity to create a theory of change or a narrative for change. One participant mentioned that the main reason for why Germany’s Energiewende appeared “stuck” is because it lacks a narrative on what benefits are in it for ordinary citizens. France and Poland see a large diversity of sociological aspects drive the national energy transition discussion, while in Germany the discussion appears more rooted in the sense of personal responsibility. Hence, the narrative of collectivity is important for France and Poland.

Great importance was given to addressing and involving the local actors in the national and European energy discussions. Participants agreed that although there are different approaches to structural change one needs to work on a common methodology and create a local approach and people-based strategy on how to convey the message to a wide range of stakeholders. Each message must explicitly be tailored towards the different local situations.

The group will meet again in Poland in December during the COP24 in Katowice to continue its discussion on the formulation of narratives of a socially-just and sustainable transition on the basis of local case studies. A third and a fourth meeting will take place in 2019 in Germany and Brussels.