Experience from Coal Industry Restructuring
AUTHOR: Simon Walker
DATE: July 2001
The second half of the 20th Century was a period of crisis for the Western European coal industry. Throughout the region, hard coal production fell in response to changing energy and geopolitical conditions, with lower demand in both domestic and export markets. As a result, the number of working mines decreased substantially, and coal industry employment reduced drastically as greater investment was made in mechanisation while overall output continued to fall. Over the 50-year period, employment in Western European hard coal mining fell from around 1.8 million to fewer than 100,000. Employment in the region's lignite mines has also been cut substantially.
This report looks at the measures taken by the authorities in six of the countries affected by coal industry restructuring in the last 40 years: Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and the United Kingdom. Each highlights different aspects of the programmes put in place to try to offset the social and economic consequences of the loss of a major employer on the worst affected communities and regions. Having reviewed the different approaches taken by individual governments, within the regional assistance framework established by the European Union, the report evaluates the experience that has been gained. The aim is to assist decision-makers in countries with developing or transitional economies, where the restructuring of the coal or other major industries has yet to take place, by suggesting key aspects for consideration, based on this experience.