In the Trencin region in Slovakia, the selection of projects to be supported via the Platform is until now circumventing the participatory process that was initiated by local authorities to create an action plan for the transformation of the region
with broad input from citizens of the region.
With Trencin selected in January 2018 as a pilot region for the Platform for Coal Regions in The European Commission’s Platform for Coal Regions in Transition Transition, the mayor of Prievidza in the center of the Slovakia’s coal mining and burning region kicked off a participatory process to come with an action plan for the post-coal development of Upper Nitra, the mining sub-region where of Trencin.
Those involved in preparing the action plan could take part in four separate working groups on economy, transport, social infrastructure and tourism. Everyone interested was able to access the working groups by simply sending an email to an address widely publicised by local media. By the end of January, around 60 applicants registered, mostly citizens of the region including entrepreneurs, municipalities and civil society.
During March and April, about 20 meetings of the working groups took place and an analysis of the situation in the region and its development potential was carried out.
HBP, the main coal company in Slovakia and owner of the local mines, refused to participate in the process despite being invited. It argued that decisions about the future of coal in the region were too important to be taken at the local level.
While this action plan seems like the right process via which local communities can decide on their future, Slovakian authorities at higher levels and HBP seem set to undercut this process – and there is a risk that the the partnership principle will be blatanly ignored, allowing them to get away with such an approach.
In February, regional authorities in Trencin announced the start of what looked initially like a parallel process of creating an action plan for Slovakia’s coal mining region.
The initiative of the Slovak government had the stamp of the European Commission as it was launched during a meeting in Trencin with the Commission and representatives of the Slovak government. This meeting was closed, with parliamentarians, NGOs and other interested parties excluded from participating. The private sector was represented only by HBP, which had the opportunity to present its projects at the meeting, the company which owns coal power plant and company GA Drilling – a partner of HBP in one project oriented on the smart specialisation.
Following this meeting, in March the Trencin regional authorities launched a call for proposals for projects to be supported via the Platform with a deadline of April 30.
Many of the projects submitted were never discussed in a broader forum but merely sent directly to the Trencin authorities. In early May, the Trencin regional government announced that 80 projects were sent in by the deadline and that these would be assessed by mid-May.
MINING GROUP PROJECTS ACCOUNTED FOR ONE THIRD OF THE VALUE OF ALL THE SUBMITTED PROJECTS.
In the meantime, during a meeting of the Platform for Coal Regions in Transition in February in Brussels, the Slovak government itself presented a project for the modernisation of the Novaky power plant including facilities for burning biomass and municipal waste.The project was presented without previously consulting with the local government.
In April, Slovak government officials present in Prievidza confirmed that the action plan for Upper Nitra that would be prepared there would become a national strategy. This is an important recognition by the highest level of government in Slovakia of a bottom-up participative process to determine the future of the region.
But at the same time, the Slovak government is pressing ahead with getting support for the projects collected by the Trencin authorities in a non-transparent, non-participatory manner. In Prievidza, the Slovak government announced the creation of a new working group under the office of Slovak Vice Prime, whose likely goal is to ensure the rapid financing of the projects submitted to the Trencin regional authorities. The government therefore focuses on ‘quick wins’ as opposed to pursuing a participative process resulting in an action plan that would truly benefit the region.
While the Slovak government pays lip service to participation by supporting the action plan created in Prievidza, it is at the same time focused on finding ‘quick wins’ in order to present fast projects on the platform. For example, until June 1st there was no public presentation of major projects, in particular HBP projects. The only discussion was in local working groups, without representatives of ministries, regional governments, and without professional support. These conflicting decisions are not only confusing.
They also raise serious doubts as to whether the Slovak government is more interested in giving HBP a chance to benefit from the Platform for Coal Regions in Transition, to help this company remain the dominant local employer, instead of hearing from the local communities.
If the Participation Principle was implemented in decisions connected to the Platform for Coal Regions, such doubts would not exist.
Photo by T. Halasz for Greenpeace