Lignite trio: Ideas for the future of the Rheinische Revier are in demand through citizen participation

Environmentalists criticise the previous procedure

Ideas for the period after the lignite mining were in demand during the citizen participation in structural change in the Rheinische Revier.On Saturday morning, 26 September 2020, however, the civic participation procedure for the economic and structural programme received a lot of criticism from the outset.

Even in the entrance area, the Bergheim Green Peter Hirseler lamented the lack of broad publicity and the lack of media support for a process that was crucially concerned with shaping the future and having a say in the distribution of billions of euros for projects in today's lignite region that were as sustainable as possible.

Very different positions at a table

Due to the Corona protection requirements, only about 50 participants were admitted to the Medio Rhein-Erft. The "Future Agency Rheinisches Revier" had invited and commissioned the communication agency "Zebralog" to carry out the citizen participation.There had already been two appointments with citizens in September in the open-cast mining communities of Mönchengladbach and Inden.

The motivation of the participants was very different. "I live and work here. I want to help shape the future, but I also want to help ensure that RWE is not always to blame for everything," said a young mother, a participant in the district workshop. One said that he was fed up with the "laberei", that "butter with the fish" had to be at last, the real premise for shaping the future had to be that of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to reduce carbon dioxide.

Opportunity to participate or implausible procedure?

Nicole Gabor from Quadrath saw a chance for the region to be part of the development of the region, namely to make good the "disaster of lignite mining" and to put it in order.She is a lecturer for sustainability in the Diocesan Council of Catholics in Aachen.

At tables on so-called "future fields" with names such as "energy and industry", "resources and agribusiness", "innovation and education" as well as "space and infrastructure", the participants welcomed Jorin Hamacher as managing director of Zebralog, the agency for participation processes on behalf of the "Future Agency Rheinisches Revier".

But even before small group work could come about, Jutta Schnüttgen-Weber, a conservationist in the Kerpen "Initiative for Sustainable Structural Change", expressed her doubts about the expressed will to really take into account ideas from the citizenry.Who would guarantee that the ideas that had been put forward would really find their way into implementation? Especially since it can be seen from press releases of the "Future Agency Rheinisches Revier" that the Future Agency has already been pushed forward and has already announced 83 projects as eligible for funding, Stephan Mertens added the background for the sceptical attitude of the Kerpen conservationists.

More information can be found here on the website of the Climate Alliance.

In protest against the phrase "resources and agro-business", Peter Hirseler chose the table on the topic of "innovation and education". "The word agro sounds too much like aggression to me. It is also too much about the interests of industrial agriculture and less about the opportunities of organic farming. I would have a few ideas for that," Hirseler said.

Program is seen as a first draft or as a too strong mark-up

These were criticisms that were fundamentally ignited by a 180-page book, the "Economic and Structural Programme for the Rhine District 1.0", or WSP for short. It had already been presented in December by the "Future Agency Rheinisches Revier".

Project manager Nicole Kolster called it a first draft, written by "experts from the region for the region".Antje Grothus called it a "too strong premium" that already presisated the direction of the industry according to the motto "continue as before".

Zebralog Managing Director Jörin Hamacher and the Spurmitlgieder Eberhard Krug and Antje Grothus (from left)

However, Grothus demands a more comprehensive mission statement for the WSP on questions such as "How do we want to live in the future?" and "Where should the journey go?" As an observer and member of the "track group", i.e. those who are supposed to accompany the implementation of the funding process, the former representative of the region was invited to the Coal Commission.

Grothus expressed the fear that civic participation in its current form could be an alibi for a set of measures that only involves the preservation and creation of jobs. After all, the supervisory board of the "Future AgencyRheinische district" includes municipalities, chambers of industry and crafts, the Ministry of Economics, Innovation, Digitization and Energy itself and the energy company RWE, but not environmental protection associations, churches or, for example, associations that represent youth concerns.

Preliminary screenplay

Nicole Kolster described the WSP as a preliminary version of a script based on the federal funding for projects. A script that had to be supplemented to version 1.1 after the first hearing of the citizens.

Kolster assured that Zebralog "carefully" handled citizens' ideas and would report in detail why submissions had been taken into account and others were not.At the very beginning of a decades-long process, the people in the district are at the beginning of a "continuity" of the co-determination process, which should be a process of coexistence, the project manager formulated.

Eberhard Krug described a "good atmosphere with very cooperative discussions" about the later mood of the discussion and working processes at the tables. The treasurer of the Cologne District Association of German Engineers had been invited as a second member of the track.The discussions took place with the participation of experts. Jürgen Beigel (energy), Alexander Opitz (industry), Benjamin Casper (space), Inga Maubach (education and innovation) Ruth Haumann (resources and agrobusiness) were there.

On Saturday, it was agreed to make changes to the WSP.The so-called "Future Field resources and agribusiness" is now to be renamed.Incidentally, the introduction of a free public transport system received broad support – one day in the not-too-distant future.

Read more here the "Economic and Structural Programme for the Rhine Area 1.0" for download and the website of the Future Agency

The next stop for citizen participation is expected to be the Revierforum on 2 November 2020 in Hürth.

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