End of an era: Germany closes its last black coal mine

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Coal miners react at the Prosper Haniel colliery on December 21, 2018 in Bottrop, western Germany after the last piece of black coal was coaled. (AFP)
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Miners and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier (R) hold the last piece of black coal at the Prosper Haniel colliery on December 21, 2018 in Bottrop, western Germany. (AFP)
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Workers sit at the Franz Haniel shaft during a ceremony marking the closure of the last active black coal mine in Bottrop, Germany December 21, 2018. (REUTERS)
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Workers leave the Franz Haniel shaft during a ceremony marking the closure of the last active black coal mine in Bottrop, Germany December 21, 2018. (REUTERS)
Updated 22 December 2018
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End of an era: Germany closes its last black coal mine

  • Germany’s coal mining industry received more than 40 billion euros ($46 billion) in federal funds since 1998 and is slated to get another 2.7 billion euros through 2022

BERLIN: Straining to hold back tears, their once-white helmets and overalls smeared with dust, seven miners in Germany stepped out of a metal cage Friday bearing the last piece of black coal hauled up from 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) below.
The ceremony marked the end of an industry that laid the foundations for Germany’s industrial revolution and its post-war economic recovery.
The men at the Prosper-Haniel mine symbolically handed the football-sized lump of coal to German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier with the words “Glueck Auf.” The ancient miners’ greeting roughly translates as “good luck,” reflecting the uncertainty of a life spent prospecting deep underground.
“A piece of German history is coming to an end here,” Steinmeier told the miners. “Without it, our entire country and its development over the past 200 years would have been unthinkable.”
The Prosper-Haniel mine in the western city of Bottrop and another colliery in Ibbenbueren, 100 kilometers (62 miles) to the north, were the last remnants of an industry that once dominated the region, employing half a million people at its peak in the 1950s. Together, they helped feed the Ruhr valley’s hungry steel mills until imports of cheaper, foreign coal made Germany’s “black gold” lose its sheen.
For decades, the mines survived only thanks to generous subsidies. But in 2007, a political decision was made to phase them out, with a promise of early retirement or retraining for their remaining workers.
According to government figures, Germany’s coal mining industry received more than 40 billion euros ($46 billion) in federal funds since 1998 and is slated to get another 2.7 billion euros through 2022. Some of the money is needed to deal with mine maintenance and environmental cleanup efforts that include preventing parts of the Ruhr region from slowly sinking as myriad tunnels give way over time.
Further vast sums have been spent supporting economic redevelopment in the region, which has seen a growth in universities, research facilities and IT start-ups in recent years.
Steinmeier urged the miners and their loved ones to look to the future, but also to take pride in a culture of hospitality and openness. The Ruhr region became a melting pot with the arrival since the 19th century of successive waves of immigrants, from Poland, Italy and Turkey, in search of well-paid work down the mines.
The end of deep-shaft mining is seen as a test for the planned closure of open-cast lignite, or brown coal, mines that still operate in Germany.
Germany still generates almost two-fifths of its electricity from burning coal, a situation that scientists say can’t continue if Germany wants to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. Lignite is considered even dirtier than black coal but remains relatively cheap to extract, even in Germany.
More than 400 coal mining regions around the world will face similar pressures to shut down in the coming decades amid international efforts to curb global warming.
Some in Germany fear that other sources of energy — chiefly renewables — may not be sufficient to power an industrial nation, especially as the country also plans to shut down its nuclear plants by 2022.
A government-appointed panel is due to deliver a report in February laying out proposals for the gradual phasing out of lignite mines.
Toward the end of Friday’s ceremony, miners paid their respects to colleagues who lost their lives underground. The dangers were highlighted Monday, when a 29-year-old worker was crushed to death by a metal door in the Ibbenbueren shaft.
And overnight Friday, news emerged of the deaths of 13 miners in an explosion at a colliery in the Czech Republic.


Britain and EU spar over Brexit as clock ticks down

Updated 21 September 2019

Britain and EU spar over Brexit as clock ticks down

  • Britain says a deal is possible
  • Ireland says not close to a deal

LONDON/BRUSSELS : Britain said on Friday a Brexit deal with the European Union could be reached at a summit next month, but EU member Ireland said the sides were far from agreement and London had not yet made serious proposals.
Three years after Britons voted to leave the EU, hopes of a breakthrough over the terms of its departure have been stoked in recent days by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson saying the shape of a deal is emerging and European Commission President Juncker saying agreement is possible.
But diplomats say the two sides are split over London’s desire to remove the Irish border “backstop” from the divorce deal struck by Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, and then work out a replacement in coming years.
The backstop is an insurance policy to keep the 500-km (300-mile) border between Ireland, which will remain in the EU, and the British province of Northern Ireland open after Brexit.
“We both want to see a deal,” British Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay said after talks in Brussels with EU negotiator Michel Barnier. “The meeting overran, which signals we were getting into the detail.”
“There is a still a lot of work to do but there is a common purpose to secure a deal,” Barclay said, adding that Juncker and Johnson also both wanted a deal.
Leaving the EU would be Britain’s biggest shift in trade and foreign policy for more than 40 years and deprive the 28-nation bloc of one of its biggest economies. The EU has set a deadline for a deal to be reached by Oct. 31.
British parliament has rejected the deal May agreed with the EU. Johnson has said he wants to secure an amended deal at an EU summit on Oct. 17-18 but that Britain will leave the bloc if that is not possible. He will meet European Council Donald Tusk at the United Nations in New York next week.
Ireland is crucial to any Brexit solution. Unless the Irish border backstop is removed or amended, Johnson will not be able to win parliamentary approval but Ireland and the EU are unwilling to sign a deal without a solution to the border.
The EU fears a hard border could cause unrest in Northern Ireland and undermine the fragile peace provided by a 1998 peace deal that ended three decades of violence between Irish nationalists seeking a united Ireland, and the British security forces and pro-British “unionists.”
The Withdrawal Agreement that was agreed with the EU last November says the United Kingdom will remain in a customs union “unless and until” alternative arrangements are found to avoid the return of border controls in Ireland.
The British government, worried the backstop will trap it in the EU’s orbit for years to come, wants to remove it and find a solution before December 2020, when a planned transition period ends.
The British pound fell from a two-month high after the Financial Times reported Johnson had told colleagues he did not expect to reach a full “legally operable” deal next month.
One EU official said Britain’s proposals are not enough to replace the backstop.
“As it stands, it is unacceptable,” the official said. “If they don’t really change their approach, we are at an impasse.”
The European Commission said in a memo that Britain’s plans “fall short of satisfying all the objectives” of finding an alternative to the backstop, Sky News reported.
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said the mood music had improved and that both sides wanted a deal but that they were not close to an agreement.
“There is certainly a lot of commentary now and some of it is spin I think, in the context of where we are,” he told the BBC. “We need to be honest with people and say that we’re not close to that deal right now.”
“Everybody needs a dose of reality here, there is still quite a wide gap between what the British government have been talking about in terms of the solutions that they are proposing, and I think what Ireland and the EU will be able to support.”
Britain said on Thursday it had shared documents with Brussels setting out ideas for a Brexit deal, but an EU diplomat described them as a “smokescreen” that would not prevent a disorderly exit on the Oct. 31 departure date.
Coveney, Ireland’s second most powerful politician, said a no-deal could lead to civil unrest.
“Trade across 300 road crossings that has created a normality and a peace that is settled on the island of Ireland for the last 20 years, that now faces significant disruption,” he said. “That is what we’re fighting for here.