The partnership principle, which requires the broad involvement of the public and other stakeholders, is fundamental for achieving a truly just transition. The quality of EU programmes and projects is often severely diminished in many regions across Europe that are undergoing major transformations without any real and meaningful involvement from local citizens and organisations.
That’s why the EU’s just transition guidelines state that local stakeholders should be ‘fully mobilised’ and that they must ‘take ownership of the transition in their territory’. For example, regions like Poland’s Eastern Wielkopolska and Romania’s Jiu Valley involved the local population early on and provided them with the necessary resources for real participation. As a result, they have now become frontrunners in the transition process.
CEE Bankwatch Network has advocated for real and meaningful stakeholder involvement at local, national and European levels since the EU’s just transition process started. Non-governmental organisations (NGOs), civil society, industry representatives, social and economic partners, local governments and universities should all be included in the participatory process. Furthermore, outreach efforts should be directed specifically at underrepresented groups such as youth and women.
Once a representative cross section of the local population has been identified, local capacities need to be strengthened. Considerable effort is often required to convince groups with limited political experience and expertise to take part in developing and drafting plans and documents. Therefore, it is vital to provide targeted support and tailor-made capacity building as early in the process as possible.
National authorities have attempted to involve stakeholders through regional and national working groups, but the extent of their success has varied widely. A particularly interesting case of such involvement occurred in Czechia, where Bankwatch’s Zuzana Vondrová was elected to serve as the only NGO representative on the national just transition platform, which was made up primarily of public officials. Established in October 2020, its purpose was to implement the objectives of the Just Transition Fund and provide a means for participation throughout the preparation of the Czech Territorial Just Transition Plan (TJTP). Unfortunately, there are several reasons the platform didn’t succeed in reaching its goals.
First of all, the platform didn’t encourage participation as well as it could have. Rather than engaging in two-way communication, ministry and regional government officials from the three Czech coal regions presented national and regional updates and provided information on the status of the TJTP and other relevant documents. Although it was possible to raise questions and make comments during the meetings, this proved to be an inconsequential way of influencing the content of the TJTP. Sending formal feedback after the meetings was more impactful. Through formal feedback, the represented stakeholders could voice opinions and submit amendment proposals. Though this was better than no participation at all, it did not represent real and meaningful participation. Because of the one-sided communication taking place at the meetings, the platform operated mainly as a way to receive updated information rather than a real instrument for influencing content.
Furthermore, the platform failed to create interest and spread knowledge about the Just Transition process. Participation and communication must be a well-organised and long-term process with certain deliverables, such as data from participants and the gathering of feedback. The Czech approach to ensuring participation seems to have been mainly about ‘accomplishing’ it on paper.
Secondly, most just transition regions have opted either for considerable NGO representation in their partnership processes or none at all. The Czech approach of involving the NGO sector, but only allowing it one representative is very unusual. Vondrová was accepted as a platform member only after considerable effort and sustained pressure, which required writing formal letters to the relevant ministries. Other NGOs that focus on social impacts, gender or youth were not invited to participate in the platform and advocate essential topics related to just transition. This is not in the spirit of the partnership principle and is also likely to diminish the quality of the TJTP itself.
‘In my personal view, this was one of the most problematic parts of the just transition process in Czechia. If you set up an official body like a stakeholder platform, one of your most important tasks should be mapping, addressing various actors and sending out open invitations. This is how you ensure transparency, defend public interest and respect the partnership principle. Something like that simply did not happen’, Zuzana Vondrová
It was clearly in the best interests of the Czech just transition process to allow NGOs to participate and to involve Vondrová in the platform, but the process was otherwise satisfactory. Yet due to the lack of real civil society influence, evident through the one–way communication and the decision to involve only one NGO representative in the platform, the Czech authorities missed an opportunity to improve the country’s TJTP by complying with the partnership principle.