Municipalities addressed to Commissioner Elisa Ferreira the painful issues of Bulgarian fair transition
Mayor of Pernik and Stara Zagora, Stanislav Vladimirov and Zhivko Todorov, pepresentatives of Bobov Dol municipality together with the NAMRB Executive Director Silviya Georgieva and their teams participated in a working meeting with EU Commissioner for Cohesion and Feforms Elisa Ferreira. The challenges of achieving fair transition were at the heart of the discussion with invited representatives of employer’s associations, trade unions and non-governmental organizations. The aim is to think together about what we can do so as to manage this transition flexible and according to the deadlines set by the EC, so that we protect ourselves from being unprepared at the end of the period, formulated the basis for the conversation Commissioner Ferreira.
The dialogue of local authorities in the regions affected by the transition with the government is superficial, said the Mayor of Stara Zagora Zhivko Todorov. The region will be most affected by the plans for decarbonisation of the economy, and therefore the municipalities are worried that so far there has not been a serious and in-depth discussion with the government on the important tasks of the transition that lie ahead. The dialogue is mainly conducted with civil organizations and trade unions, Todorov stressed and pointed out that the municipalities remain outside the process of preparing territorial plans for a fair transition. We cannot cover up a problem, make an aqueous decision on it, the mayor of Stara Zagora municipality was adamant.
The price that our regions will pay is very high and the municipality of Stara Zagora is the most affected, said the mayor of the other coal region in Bulgaria – Pernik, Stanislav Vladimirov. He stressed that the Bulgarian experience in managing and investing European funds is not commendable – the money is not always spent in the best way and does not always achieve the necessary effect. It outlined several priority areas in which municipalities hope that resources to achieve a fair transition will be invested: the creation of new business units to fit the concept of the green deal, and this means more funds for industrial zones, for good places to do modern business with high added value; no less important is the availability of a resource for bringing infrastructure, because it is one of the guarantees to attract stable investors and, most importantly, jobs and retraining for people who will lose their livelihoods during the transition period. Thus, the Mayor of Pernik outlined the priorities for the Bulgarian transition model.
The specific examples were given by the representative of Bobov dole municipality: closed enterprises, dejected people leaving the region, deteriorating infrastructure that makes attracting investors almost impossible – "municipality in stalemate".
Among the serious problems is the lack of vision in the government of who and how will manage the EU funds that our country will receive under the Fair Transition Fund, the Deputy Mayor of Pernik Municipality Stefan Krastev noted. If the management of these funds goes according to the traditional model of management of operational programs, as was the idea in Bulgaria until days ago, the funds will not go purposefully where they are needed, Krastev said. It does not matter what the amount of funds is if they are not spent wisely, the Deputy Mayor of Pernik said, adding that, unfortunately, Brussels has a stronger understanding of the need to involve all stakeholders from a series of Bulgarian governments.
"The mayors of the affected municipalities defined the key problems faced by local authorities. Our general challenge is the lack of communication and clear policies, clearly defined and quantifiable goals by the central government" – summarized the position of the local authorities the NAMRB Executive Director , Silvia Georgieva. We don't know where we're going, what we need to achieve and at what cost. It also scares municipalities and citizens. We are all aware that the transition will not be fair, but if the objectives are clearly defined and the national authorities know where they are leading us, it will be easier to cope, she explained to Commissioner Ferreira.
Currently, the institution that will manage the funds from the Fair Transition Fund is not defined in Bulgaria, as the structures responsible for the whole process. The Fair Transition Fund was positioned as an element of the Regions in Development programme for the new programming period 2021-2027, but two days ago management of the Fair Transition Fund was removed from the Program Regions in Development. This lute is a signal of a lack of a clear vision of the objectives, mechanisms and expected effect, stressed Silvia Georgieva.
The Bulgarian municipalities are prepared – we know all European sources of funds, the municipalities are motivated, make serious efforts to retain their already qualified staff in the field of management of EU projects and expect clear horizontal coordination between the different sources of funding. This is Bulgaria's big challenge at all levels, Georgieva acknowledged. There is a lack of management of both beneficiaries and synergies between resources.
Trade union representatives and employers reaffirmed the main problems defined by mayors – lack of normal communication and awareness of stakeholders, isolation from the work of consultants and the process of developing territorial plans, complete lack of clarity on the management of funds and objectives to be achieved.
"You have not lost that you have not participated in meetings with the government" – the representative of the trade union Confederation of Labour "Podkrepa", Mario Ninov addressed the representatives of the municipalities and added that participation at these meetings are with limited participation. The trade union is continuing its efforts to gain access to the report, developed by the government's consultants from PWC, but so far – unsuccessfully. "We have no idea what of our proposals has been taken into account or what will be included in the territorial plans for a fair transition," the unions are unhappy.
The representative of the Association of Industrial Capital pointed out that there is no flexibility mechanism in the energy transformation process and pointed to the recent geopolitical shocks that call into question some of the ideas for energy restructuring and create further distance from the processes. Business considers it necessary to bring the management of such a complex process as a fair transition into a structure that has the power to coordinate the work of ministries, institutions, civil society organisations and economic actors.
Commissioner Ferreira, who listened carefully to all participants at the meeting and kept detailed notes, stressed at the end of the discussion that her main claim to the government would be to find an appropriate management formula for the process involving all stakeholders and actively interact with local authorities.