Inaugural speech by Séamus Boland, conference 'Reinventing the Moravian-Silesian Region in Search of a Socially Just Transition'

Ostrava, Czech Republic, 11 October 2022

Dear Minister, Mayor, Christa and esteemed guests,

It is with great pleasure that I would like to welcome you to this conference entitled 'Reinventing the Moravian-Silesian Region, in search of a socially just transition'. The event is organised by the Civil Society Organisations' Group of the European Economic and Social Committee and with us today are civil society representatives from the 27 EU countries. We regularly organise conferences in the country which is holding the Presidency of the Council of the EU and I would like to begin by warmly thanking our Czech Members who have made this event possible: Lukáš CURYLO, Zuzana BRZOBOHATÁ and Jarmila DUBRAVSKÁ!

For many of us, this is the first time in Ostrava, at the eastern-most region of the Czech Republic. I have to admit to being a bit of a history buff and I read with great interest that Ostrava was established in the 13th Century and benefited from the 'Amber Road' trade route between the Baltic and Adriatic Seas. But it is the coal mines and steel production dating from the 19th Century, that firmly put this region on the international map. The Moravian-Silesian region powered the industrial engine of the Austrian Empire and this city became known as 'Black Ostrava'. Crucially, it was synonymous with prosperity, employment and multi-ethnicity, with Czechs, Slovaks, Poles, Germans and Jews working alongside each other.

One thing that is well known about mining communities, is that they have very strong identities. They are close-knit, self-reliant and proud communities, often with generations in the same profession. So transforming the 'steel-heart' of the Czech Republic into a low carbon economy, is first and foremost about reinventing local identities. It is about people, respect and partnership, building on the strong historical connections of the local communities with the land. It is about empowering and directly involving them in the planning for the regeneration of the region.

The European Green Deal and the 'Fit for 55' package are visionary and strategic objectives, doted with substantial EU financial resources. These resources are already supporting the transformation of regions such as Moravia-Silesia. With Climate Change at our doorstep, the transition to climate neutral economies is both necessary and urgent. And as the President of the European Commission said last month in her State of the Union speech, "We must make Nature our first ally", through renewable sources of energy.

We are privileged to be holding today's conference in the Dolní oblast Vítkovice, a site which has successfully managed an impressive transformation. The venue brings physically together the past and the present, converting Ostrava's industrial heritage into educational, cultural and business opportunities. Breathing new life to abandoned factories and to the city centre. In effect, you are stimulating the next generation by popularizing science and technology. Hopefully, the region will also avoid a brain drain, by indirectly creating new job opportunities and a more skilled workforce. Indeed, from my perspective as a visitor, the transformation of this industrial site, could be a very strong positive example of how to effectively remodel the entire region.

What we must keep in mind is that the European Green Deal and indeed, the EU digital transition, are inter-dependent and central to the EU's strategy of geostrategic autonomy from Russia. But we need to shrink this big strategic vision of the EU, to the local level. Because nothing will be achieved without getting on board local communities and civil society organisations. We must directly involve them in bottom-up processes, jointly identifying challenges and opportunities. Together, we must develop creative and sustainable solutions for a sustainable future. 

We should also remember that the transition to net zero emissions, whether it is in Moravia-Silesia or elsewhere, will require profound changes in attitudes and perceptions. Agreeing to invest today, but to only reap the benefits tomorrow.

However, the greatest challenge of all will be to deliver a just transition for the many and not only for the few.

Civil society organisations are key to delivering such a just transition. Through their interactions with local government and their capacity to bring the topic out of the policy arena and into communities. At the same time, local government has an essential responsibility to support the most vulnerable and those who are less able to adapt to change. If we are to succeed, we need respect, partnership and honest communication among all stakeholders on future options.

Working together, we must identify specific and targeted actions, such as adapted life-long learning, re-training and upskilling opportunities. We will need substantial and long-term investment in the education sector and in economic diversification. For example, tourism (recreation, heritage and biodiversity) will be crucial to effectively managing the just transition.  

We should also aim to create a significant number of new jobs and to successfully integrate into the labour market young people, women, persons with disability and the long-term unemployed.

Such a joint approach should aim to reduce and manage the risks of the transition in a just and fair way. Ultimately, the overriding objective of the just transition must be to not leave behind any individual, community or economic sector.

Ladies and gentlemen, I will draw my comments to a close by recalling the words of the Ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus: "Nothing endures but change".But how we manage that change, depends on all of us! Thank you for your attention.


Speech by Séamus Boland