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Stakeholder dialogue in practice: Just Transition in the European car industry

by Gloria Koepke and Leah Sinsel, NELA. Next Economy Lab

On May 12, 2022, the conference “Just Transition: Where is the European car industry heading?” was held in Brussels. It was part of the EUKI project “Just Transition in the car industry” and organised by NELA. Next Economy Lab with the support of six partner organisations from Croatia, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Hungary and Germany. The co-creative conference placed great emphasis on bringing together different stakeholders to enable and facilitate dialogue. Representatives at the conference included various different stakeholder groups: industry, environmental NGOs, academia, trade unions from Central and Eastern Europe, as well as policy makers from the European Commission and Parliament.

Asking the right questions

Since change is inevitable in the European automotive industry due to environmental regulations, international competition and technological shifts, many questions arise. How can we create new pathways for the automotive industry within the context of sustainable mobility in Europe? How to foster a Just Transition in one of our most symbolic industries? How to best manage the conflicting needs, priorities, and expectations of stakeholders? How to ensure that this transition is fair for the workers and regions directly affected? How can we account for the disparities between Eastern and Western Europe? And finally: How to enable Eastern European stakeholders to actively shape the transition?

Woman on a stage (Sarah Mewes) giving a presentation on the Just Transition in the European car industry project.

Sarah Mewes (NELA) is presenting the findings of the country reports on the topic of a Just Transition in the European Car Industry. Photo: Just Transition in the Car Industry

What problems do we need to address first, and how?

The conference opened with keynote speeches and then moved into an interactive, co-creative format. The first keynote speaker Frank Siebern-Thomas from the European Commission’s DG Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion stressed the need for policy to realise the potential of transition while addressing the risks through labour market policies, re-skilling, investment and mitigating regressive effects. Benjamin Denis, senior policy advisor at the European trade union IndustriALL, gave the second keynote. He particularly emphasised the importance of social dialogue in accelerating the emissions reduction in the EU.

Afterwards, transformation expert Janna Aljets provided critical commentary on the keynotes, with a particular focus on climate and global justice. “What kind of economy can we not only afford but which economy can bring wellbeing without destroying our common basis of life? How do we understand an economy that is not based on the over-exploitation of resources and people, especially in the Global South?”

Two men in the foreground discuss a topic. The man on the right gestures. In the back, pairs of men and women are also engaged in discussions.

Discussing some main issues in the field of a Just Transition in the European car industry. Photo: Just Transition in the Car Industry

Finding solutions – co-creatively

The new insights, controversies and open questions served as the basis for co-creative workshops on four topics: Stakeholder participation and social dialogue, Electrification, Reskilling and Just Transition in the Central and Eastern European car industry. In the workshops diverse stakeholder groups came together to identify key questions that urgently need to be answered together. Through lively, face-to-face discussions, the co-creative format of the workshops enabled an understanding of various perspectives on the transition. We used deep listening exercises to familiarise participants with conflicting positions of other stakeholders and enable the development of initial solutions.

A blurred woman on the right corner (moderator Jacki Davis) is speaking to Anna Deparnay-Grunenberg during the panel discussion.

Sigrid de Vries, Anna Deparnay-Grunenberg, Balázs Bábel, Jacki Davis (left to right), Photo: Just Transition in the Car Industry

At last, the conference concluded with a multi-stakeholder panel discussion. Panelists were Anna Deparnay-Grunenberg (MEP Greens/EFA), Tommaso Pardi (Director GERPISA, Research Group on the Automobile Industry and its Employees), Sigrid de Vries (Secretary General CLEPA, European Association of Automotive Suppliers) and Balázs Bábel (Vice-President VASAS, Hungarian Metalworkers’ Federation).

Summary

Sometimes it is not easy to engage in dialogue, especially when it is almost inevitable to be confronted with conflicting views and positions of various stakeholders. However, this conference chose to jump straight into the deep end and acknowledge opposing positions, different values and lived experiences. The numerous positive feedbacks from the participants showed once again that dialogue is worthwhile. Stakeholder participation and social dialogue is crucial for a Just Transition. When well facilitated, it creates ownership of change among all people and regions affected. Listening to views beyond our own allows us to come together and join forces for a sustainable future for all.

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Just Transition in the Car Industry