Video message for the Conference “Investments and Regions”, high level panel “Cohesion Policy and Just Transition – perspectives for Bulgaria”

(Source: European Commission)

“Check against delivery”

Dear colleagues,

These days we were bluntly reminded that Europe’s energy independence and transition to renewable energy sources is not only dictated by our climate neutrality commitments, but by the geopolitical reality we face.

The rise in energy prices and supply disruption we are experiencing are a direct result of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine.

As we have done in the past with other challenges, we need to remain united and address this issue together and with solidarity.

In March, the Commission adopted a Communication: ‘REPowerEU: Joint European Action for more affordable, secure and sustainable energy’. It underlines that the case for a rapid, clean energy transition has never been stronger and clearer.

We will present our Action Plan how to translate the objectives of REPowerEU into practice on 18 May.

Cohesion policy is well suited to support Member States investments in REPower EU, especially at the regional level, to reduce fossil fuels dependence and transition to more sustainable energy production.

Phasing out fossil fuels is difficult. It means fundamental changes in our lifestyles and our travel, the way we produce and consume. These changes are hard in many corners of Europe, but we all know that decarbonisation and energy transition will be a particular challenge in Bulgaria.

This is why cohesion policy is investing 1.3 billion euros in Bulgaria from the Just Transition Fund to address the socio-economic fallout of the transition, focusing on the most impacted regions – Pernik, Kyustendil, Stara Zagora.

In addition to JTF support, Bulgaria will benefit from an overall Cohesion funding envelope of close to 10 billion euros and around 6 billion euros from the Recovery and Resilience Facility.

All in all, this makes 2500 euros of European investment for each Bulgarian.

So what will the Just Transition Fund do? The Fund was created to ensure that no region was left behind in the transition to a climate-neutral Europe. It will fund reskilling of workers, diversification of local economies and revitalisation of former mining sites.

The communities living in these regions, in Pernik, Kyustendil, Stara Zagora, whose family income depends on mining, and who inevitably face a declining industry and thus a declining source of sustenance, this is a fact we should accept – these communities should have a future, an opportunity to earn an income and participate in the future economy.

Our goal is to help people develop new skills, diversify local employment and economic activity, including energy diversification and renewables.

As Europeans, we have for a long time now prioritised the green transition. But now we must also pay attention to energy security.

We must wean ourselves off our dependence on Russian oil and gas.

Cohesion policy has long supported energy efficiency, renewable energy development, and energy networks. We must now redouble those efforts.

The new cohesion programmes in Bulgaria plan to invest 300 million euros to replace heating systems with renewable stoves and boilers; 150 million euros, to improve the energy efficiency in buildings; and over EUR 80m to improve energy efficiency in enterprises.

The REPowerEU initiative will accelerate these plans to reduce fossil fuel use in homes, in buildings and in industry.

These transitions will be challenging for all of us. And none of us can “go it alone”. We must mobilise everyone, to contribute their expertise, their energy, and their capacity.

Partnership has always been the cornerstone of cohesion policy, and the key to our success. But with the Just Transition Fund, it becomes even more important.

We cannot design the future of regions and their citizens without inviting them to the table. We must involve regional and local partners, we must involve economic and social partners and trade unions of coal miners, and we must involve representatives of civil society including, and I underline, young people.

These partners should be part of all stages in the process, from preparation to implementation, to monitoring and evaluation.

So discussions must start now. In fact, there is absolutely no time to lose – Bulgaria must finalise its  Territorial Just Transition Plans and put JTF money into operation without delay – or risk losing the financing from NextGeneration EU, from borrowing on the market, which has a very tight time horizon for investments.

So the need is there. And the time to act is now. European investment and support is there. And the partners are ready. I hope that open public discussions will soon materialise in real action on the ground for the benefit of all Bulgarians, and especially those working in the JTF regions who really need this support.

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