Miners protest at German plans to shut down coal mines

Miners protest at German plans to shut down coal mines

More than 10,000 German miners halted work in protest at government plans to shut down German coal mines by 2018 and calls by the regional premier of North Rhine-Westphalia state, where most of the mines are situated, for an even earlier phase-out date.

Thousands of miners and other employees of the RAG industrial conglomerate, which operates Germany’s eight existing coal mines, demonstrated in front of the regional parliament in Duesseldorf on Thursday.

They waved banners that read: “Enough is enough, Mr Ruettgers” (regional state premier Juergen Ruettgers). And the protesters also released hundreds of black balloons into the air on which was printed: “I am a job.”

RAG’s coal-mining unit, Deutsche Steinkohle (DSK), said that 10,000 miners failed to turn up for work, answering the call of the IG BCE union to go to the demonstration in Duesseldorf instead.

Earlier this week, the ruling coalition of left and right parties hammered out a compromise agreement to cease all subsidies to the country’s eight remaining coal mines by 2018, which would effectively mean their closure.

The cost of mining the coal in Germany is three times higher than the cost of importing it from abroad.

However, soon afterwards, Ruettgers sparked further controversy by saying subsidies should be cut as early as 2014.

He complained that the government in Berlin had not consulted him in their decision, even though seven of the eight mines are based in his state.

The refusal by Ruettgers, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative CDU party, to vote in favour of the 2018 phase-out effectively blocked the government’s planned talks aimed at hammering out the details.

Economy Minister Michael Glos said that talks were suspended “not because of any differences on the matter but because we technically weren’t able to finish.”

However, a date for a new round of talks had not yet been set.

Ruettgers’ position immediately came under fire, however, from the centre-left SPD (Social Democrat), the CDU’s partner in the left-right coalition.

The SPD’s general secretary Hubertus Heil slammed the minister as “irresponsible” and said he was betraying the miners’ interests.

The head of the IG-BCE union Hubertus Schmoldt said that the union had found it hard to agree in the first place to the 2018 deadline and said he hoped the compromise would not be softened further.

But Ruettgers also had some supporters.

The regional head of the liberal FDP party in North Rhine-Westphalia, Gerhard Papke, said the state premier’s comments were “overdue and necessary.”

“It is not in the interests of North Rhine-Westphalia if the federal government wants to plough billions of euros of taxpayers’ money underground, instead of using it to finance the structural transformation of the region,” he told the Cologne regional daily “Koelner Stadt-Anzeiger”.

A leading CDU expert, Peter Rauen (CDU), also suggested that it “might make sense to let the subsidies run out earlier and invest the money in the future instead.”

Source: AFP via news.yahoo.com

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