Poland demonstrate against closure of lignite mine, Czech Republic threatens with penalty payment

“ In the past, Moscow took away our sovereignty, today it is Brussels. Hands off the Turow mine!” Thousands of Polish miners today protested in Warsaw against the gradual closure of brown and coal mines in the country. The protesters fear their jobs as a result of the energy transition.

Poland, which has the most polluted air in the European Union thanks to its dependence on coal, intends to close all coal and lignite mines by 2050. Agreements were made with the trade unions last year; nonetheless, the workers fear for their future. “Tens of thousands of jobs are at risk,” says a Solidarnosc trade union leader to press agency AP.

The anger is particularly directed at the European authorities, among other things because of a recent ruling by the European Court of Justice. Last month this demanded the immediate closure of the large Turów lignite mine in the southwest of the country, in a case brought by neighbouring Czech Republic.

Protesters used protest flags to pass EU offices in Warsaw:

The Polish Government recently extended the licence for the open lignite mine Turów for six years. The closure of the mine would be impossible, according to Mr Jaroslaw Gowin, because Turów is too crucial for the Polish energy system.

Poland is dependent on coal mining for almost 70% of its energy consumption. Nowhere in the EU is that high.

The

Czech Republic is experiencing air pollution and soil pollution from the Turów mine. A lot of groundwater is also extracted from Czech border municipalities.

Gowin has had ‘very intensive diplomatic negotiations with the Czech Republic in order to keep the mine open. Polish Prime Minister Morawiecki proposes to build a large screen at the Czech border to reduce environmental pollution. Negotiations between the two countries are still ongoing.

Czech Republic demands millions

However, Prague seems to be losing patience with the Polish Government. Yesterday, the Czech Government announced that it would ask the European Court of Justice to impose a penalty payment on Poland for keeping the Turów mine open. Prague demands EUR 5 million a day for ignoring the European ruling to close the mine.

Today, the European Commission announced its support for the Czech Republic in the case against Poland.

This is a very unique case, says historian Michiel Luining, who is researching the application of European law in Central and Eastern Europe. “It would be the first time for an EU country to comply with European law by means of periodic penalty payments.”

It has only happened eight times before that one Member State attempted to drag another country before the EU Court of Justice, emphasises Luining. In only two of them a verdict was actually delivered.

Sovereignty

The protesters in Warsaw have no message to the legal dispute with the Czech Republic. They accuse the country of hypocrisy because the Czech Republic also uses coal mines in the same region.

Furthermore, according to Solidarnosc foreman Gonerski, neighbouring Germany, would like to stop the construction of a nuclear power plant, which would make it impossible for Poland to stop the extraction of lignite. “We are forced to give up our sovereignty and import expensive energy from France and Germany.”