German villagers adopt new strategy to stop RWE coalPublished by MAC on 2019-10-02
Source: The Guardian
"Human rights before mining"
For previous news, please see: Coal shutdown in Germany
'Human rights before mining rights': German villagers take on coal firm
Residents say they will not be ousted by energy firm seeking to expand the Garzweiler mine
Philip Oltermann in Berlin
30 September 2019
A group of villagers living on the edge of one of Germany’s biggest surface coalmines have vowed not sell their properties to the energy company RWE, and to mount a legal challenge against any attempt to oust them from their homes.
The protest alliance is the first coordinated effort in more than 10 years against the expansion of the Garzweiler mine in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia, which threatens the existence of 12 villages that are home to 7,600 residents. Demolition of the first four villages is scheduled to begin in 2023.
Acting under the name Menschenrecht vor Bergrecht – Human Rights Before Mining Rights – the alliance of villagers announced at a press conference in Düsseldorf on Monday they would refuse an expropriation agreement with RWE under which the energy company would pay to resettle them.
This would mean the company would have to apply to the regional government for formal permission to dispossess the residents. But the villagers said they would then challenge this in court.
In 2008, the environmental group BUND mounted a similar challenge against RWE, when it refused to sell an orchard in the village of Otzenrath on the edge of the surface mine. Protesters were eventually evicted and 87 fruit trees razed.
Menschenrecht vor Bergrecht hopes it is on firmer legal ground to resist dispossession now that the government has announced plans to phase out coal by 2038 in a move away from fossil fuels.
A piece of land on the boundary between the village of Keyenberg and the Garzweiler mine will serve as a testing ground.
“We are using this land as an example, to ask the courts about the legal questions of expropriation,” the group said in a statement. “If RWE does not agree we can keep this piece of land, we will use legal means to defend it. At the moment, this is the only way we can get legal clarity about our future and on whether what RWE is doing is legal – turning people out of their homes for coal, as the world struggles to combat the climate crisis.”
A report by the German Institute for Economic Research published this year argues that the government’s new policy objectives render unnecessary RWE’s plans to remove the villages around Garzweiler, as well as the forest by the Hambach surface mine. RWE says it considers the study “unserious and unscientific”.
Asked about the villagers’ declaration, a spokesperson for RWE told the Guardian the group represented a minority of residents of the villages affected. “Three-quarters of villagers have concluded negotiations over compensation payments, and their villages will be rebuilt in new locations,” said Guido Steffen.
“We take notice of the villagers’ announcement and regret that these steps have to be taken,” he added. “We have a phase-out, not a breakdown of this industry, so we need the coal under these villages.”
Marita Dresen, a member of Menschenrecht vor Bergrecht from the village of Kuckum, said at the press conference on Monday: “It breaks my heart when I think about the fact that my entire life could be destroyed by a coal digger.
“The legal route is not what we would have chosen, but it seems we have no other option if we’re to get clarity. But I would never have taken this step alone. We are a team and we know that we are not just acting for our villages, but taking a stand against coal everywhere – and for the climate.”