Cross-border Impact Assessment 2020
Dossier 3: Ex-ante evaluation of the (potential) cross-border impact of the structural reinforcement programme to end coal-based power generation in Germany (Kohleausstieg)
The entire dossier will is available here in English.
Note from the editors
This research report is a provisional version of Dossier 5 because the research activities for this dossier could unfortunately not be concluded as planned due to unforeseen circumstances.
Folkert de Vries
On July 3rd, 2020 the German Bundestag adopted the Act on the Structural Reinforcement of Coal Regions (Strukturstärkungsgesetz Kohleregionen) formalizing the beginning of the end of German coal-based power- generation. Accordingly, significant subsidies have been made available for the structural socio-economic transformation of four regions in Germany that are economically and socially dependent and environmentally affected by brown coal, its extraction and usage.
One such regions is the border-region of the “Rheinisches Revier” (the Rhenish mining district) situated between the metropolitan areas of Aachen, Köln and Düsseldorf. It is formed by the municipalities of Düren, Euskirchen, Heinsberg, Rhein-Erft-Kreis and the Rhein-Kreis Neuss, the Städteregion Aachen and the city of Mönchengladbach.
The Rheinisches Revier Programme (RRP) is managed through the “Innovationsregion Rheinisches Revier GmbH” (IRR) and its executive agency, the “Zukunftsagentur“. On 12 December 2019 the IRR, published the overall vision,
Wirtschafts- und Strukturprogram für das Rheinische Zukunftsrevier 1.0.  On the basis of this vision the RRP’s focus ill be on specific thematic clusters that are organised under six so-called “Revierknoten” (nodes).
These clusters base their policies and selection of projects on a two-pronged participation approach. That approach entails consultation rounds with experts on selected themes from governmental organizations, knowledge centres and the private sector. These expert consultations will translate the overall vision into more concrete proposals, some of which are then put to the region’s citizens through different platforms such as public meetings and online consultation. In order to launch the entire programme, a first wave of 83 projects has already been approved.
Cross-Border Rheinisches Revier?
Within the framework described above, the proximity to the Dutch border and the size of the RRP (compared to other investment programmes in the region) the main research question is: what influence will the RRP have on cross-border cooperation such as joint special planning, joint economic specialisation, better coordination of investment programmes and better governance?
This dossier will focus on the influence of the RRP on the border region with the Dutch Province of Limburg, in particular Zuid Limburg. The research conducted for this analysis is qualitative of nature due to the maturity of the RRP. In that sense the dossier presents an ex ante evaluation of possible border effects of the RRP. Therefore, it will mainly focus on the different interviews conducted with stakeholders on both sides of the border. This analysis will cover the design phase, the selection of the first projects and the programme’s future. In relation to the three themes of the ITEM Cross-Border Impact Assessment, mainly aspects of socio-economic/sustainable development and Euregional cohesion, with a focus on cross-border cooperation will be discussed.
To date the RRP’s stakeholders have steered clear from any cross-border ambitions in their vision, participation process and selection of projects. The RRP’s visionary document mentions the international context of the RRP. However, those few references mostly do not specifically pertain to the border-region as such except for a mention of mobility as a cross-border theme and a mention of the strength of the network of Euregional universities. During the different public consultations the IRR did not involve actors from networks from the border region and it is barely mentioned in its communications. This is also reflected in the current list of 83 projects selected in this first phase. None have a truly cross-border component.
During interviews with different stakeholders who were involved in the process of designing the vision, setting-up and accompanying public consultations and selecting projects it was clear that, during those early stages of the RRP, any reference to cross-border collaboration needed to be avoided in order to not jeopardize its fragile public support. This is emphasized by the fact that municipal elections will be held in the Rhenish District in September 2020. Within this context, the perception of money floating away to other regions, especially across the border, is to be avoided.
Another argument used to exclude cross-border components from the RRD is the complexity of including stakeholders from across the border. This is a recurring issue in cross-border collaboration. Public authorities and project initiators generally find it difficult to identify the relevant stakeholders and to understand how to activate their participation. Besides, the perception and fear of those interviewed from within the IRR is that adding partners from across the border, especially governmental organizations, might slow-down the programme’s pace.
On several occasions those interviewed within the IRR mentioned that, in the longer term, some themes that the RRD focuses on will inevitably have cross-border components because of their nature and effects or because expertise from across the border is necessary.
A very concrete example concerns spatial planning, infrastructure and mobility. Those in charge of this cluster have planned an extensive spatial planning research on Zuid-Limburg with the specific aim of linking it to a mirror- research on the Rhenish mining district. The aim is to ensure that the vision on these subjects and the ensuing projects will always be placed in the wider context. To that end, certain Dutch governmental organizations have joined the research concerning Zuid-Limburg and will therefore be (indirectly) involved in the RRD.
This cross-border component also includes other themes such as those covered by the energy and industry clusters. These are fields in which Zuid-Limburg possesses certain unique strengths (Chemelot, for instance) or fields in which Dutch border municipalities can serve as living labs (exchanging excess energy and heat from one border town to another, for instance).
At this stage, through interviews with Dutch stakeholders, it is worth noting that these stakeholders, especially the Province of Limburg and the main municipalities in Zuid-Limburg, are struggling to find a common strategy towards being involved, influencing, seeking cooperation and adapting their own policies and visions towards the RRD. The initial research on this topic shows a clear lack of efficient cross-border governance. Future research could focus on its development and whether common socio-economic visions and strategies ensue.