“Structural change” is generally understood to mean a change in the structural composition of an aggregate (e.g. gross domestic product (GDP) or the workforce). From a sectoral point of view, it includes changes in the structure of industries, and from a regional perspective, shifts between individual regions in a larger economic area. Regional and sectoral structural change cannot be viewed independently from one another as industries are typically not evenly distributed across the regions. This applies especially to the lignite and hard coal regions in Germany and Europe, which are concentrated in specific regions, for example, for many years, in the Ruhr ar ea and Saarland or the four lignite mining districts of Rhineland, Helmstedt, Central Germany and Lusatia.

The imminent phase-out of coal will bring structural changes to the regions affected. Depending on the social and political model, the State steps in to support the regions through structural policy interventions. However, structural policy cannot (and will not) prevent structural change, but can provide a framework. Regions must allow change. Structural policy interventions, however, which are also required under constitutional law in Germany, are not ineffective and meaningless – on the contrary!

This study reviews Germany’s experiences with structural policy focusingon the Ruhr area (but also experiences from other regions) and identifies the structural policy developments and their positive and negative impacts. In addition to an analysis of relevant literature, quantitative analyses of secondary data were conducted. Building on these initial results, the most important effects of the structural policy measures were identified.Guideline-based interviews with decision-makers from the realms of politics, administration, business and trade unions were conducted to provide a further empirical foundation for the study findings. In addition, a dedicated group discussion was held with representatives from the political arena, environmental organisations and trade unions.

To discuss transferability to other regions and countries, particular attention was also paid to the geographic conditions, historical context and structures. This is relevant in view of the fact that structural change is organised differently in large industrial centres with interconnected economic sectors than in industrial villages situated on the periphery. Since the general institutional framework in Greece, Poland and Bulgaria differs considerably from Germany’s institutional setting, the effects were also evaluated with regard to institutional integration.

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