July 25, 2021

Diplomatic crisis surrounding the Turow coal mine in Poland

What price is Poland prepared to pay in order to continue mining coal? After having, alone among the 27 of the EU, renounced European aid for the energy transition in order not to be obliged to commit to achieving climate neutrality by 2050, it now incurs financial penalties. linked to the operation of its mine in Turow, in the extreme southwest of the country.

However, it is not the installation’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions and global climate change that is in question, but its local impact on water and soil. Digged in successive strata for more than a century, the open-cast mine is now nearly 20 km large.2 and in places exceeds 200 meters in depth. It thus forms a depression which tends to attract neighboring watercourses towards it, with the effect of sinking the land above it.

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The Turow mine is unique in that it borders Germany and the Czech Republic in a region that has long been described as “Black triangle” because of its very polluted air. From the 1990s, European integration made it possible to resolve this problem, while de facto granting each of the countries concerned the right to monitor the activities of their neighbors.

Embarrassing complaint

Having become less dependent on coal than Poland, which still derives 75% of its electricity production from it, the border regions of Saxony in Germany and Liberec in the Czech Republic hoped that their partner would follow their example and close the Turow mine. Dating from 1994, its operating concession was due to expire in April 2020, but was finally extended by the Polish authorities to a few months before the expiry date until 2044.

Believing that it was not properly associated with this decision while European law requires such consultations in projects with a cross-border environmental impact, the Czech government appealed to the Court of Justice of the EU in February to have the irregularity of the renewal established. of the concession and, pending a judgment on the merits, obtain the provisional shutdown of the mine.

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Since the establishment of this court in the 1950s, only a few infringement proceedings have been launched by one Member State against another, with capitals generally preferring to let the European Commission bear the political costs of these actions. In seventeen years of EU membership, Poland had never been the target of such a complaint, all the more embarrassing as it comes from a country perceived as a close ally in the framework of of the Visegrad group.

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