The EU has been keen to emphasise its role as a leader in the fight against climate change and the move away from fossil fuels.
The European Commission recently recommended that subsidies to the coal industry be phased out by October 1, 2014 to force the closure of uncompetitive coal mines. However, the centre-right European People's Party and the centre-left Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats have voted to extend this deadline by a further four years.
European Member of Parliament (MEP)Sophie in't Veld, spokeswoman for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe group (Alde), says the outcome of the vote would offer continued support for a non-competitive sector that has been unable to reform for decades. "At a time of economic crisis, taxpayers' money has to be spent wisely, like investing in future and sustainable technologies rather than propping up outdated industries," in't Veld says. Subsidised coal represents around 5% of the EU's electricity mix and state aid to the sector amounts to around EUR3 billion per year.
Alde supported the commission's original timeline, which in't Veld says would have included funding for measures to avoid job losses, such as retraining workers. The European Commission and member states now need to decide whether to heed this vote, stick with the 2014 proposal or find a compromise. In't Veld hopes the commission will have the courage to stick to its original proposal and resist political pressure from member states. Germany has been most vocal in its opposition to these plans, saying that an early deadline would compromise its coal industry and cost too many jobs.
Philippe Lamberts, a Belgian Green Party MEP, believes the vote goes against the EU's economic, energy and climate-change interests. He believes that state aid to uncompetitive mines is not in the long-term interest of its workers and, instead, the EU should invest wholeheartedly in a future energy sector based on energy efficiency and renewable energy.
Lamberts believes that reforming the EU energy sector will ensure the creation of thousands of sustainable jobs in former coal-producing regions. The European Wind Initiative - a EUR6 billion, ten-year research and development roadmap for the wind energy sector launched in 2010 - promises, for example, to create 250,000 new skilled jobs in the EU in the wind energy sector alone by 2020.