Spain invokes EU rule to aid struggling coal miners: source

28th September 2010, Comments 0 comments

Spain will on Wednesday secure approval from European regulators to grant its struggling coal mines guaranteed orders from electricity generators through until the end of 2014, an EU source said.

Madrid has invoked a rule that allows it to ensure that electricity producers source nine percent of their energy input from domestic coal during that period, an EU source told AFP, thereby helping its miners cope during countdown to planned closures.

The green light will be given by the European Union on the day that hundreds of miners end a nine-day march coinciding with a general strike in Spain and widespread European protests against austerity cuts.

Miners protesting over unpaid wages and to demand government aid have staged hunger strikes, temporarily blocked highways and railways and staged a month-long underground sit-in at one mine in northern Spain.

Madrid is using an energy liberalisation directive, or law, which says that states can order that "up to 15 percent" of power generated must come from domestic sources.

"Spain is asking for the period 2011-14 that electricity producers take nine percent ... out of coal," the source said, asking not to be named.

The guaranteed income from electricity generators goes alongside annual "operating aid" for the mines as they prepare for closure by the 2014 deadline.

This income currently amounts in Spain's case to 300 million euros (410 million dollars) per year, according to an EU diplomat, although the amount should fall by a third each year until being phased out.

The EU source said Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who hails from a tough mining constituency, was trying to protect the mines -- a symbolic, but uncompetitive employer in a country where one in five are unemployed -- until 2025.

Another source said Germany was backing efforts to revisit the deadline by seeking to delay mine closures until 2018.

State aid for coal frequently triggers rows in Brussels because of competing ideologies about safeguarding workers' interests in failing, traditional industries and how to secure a green energy future for the continent.

© 2010 AFP

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