Donald Tusk’s nomination as the next president of the European Council is a major game changer for the EU's energy and climate policy. And it is not a good one, writes Andrzej Ancygier.
Andrzej Ancygier is a research fellow at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin and lecturer at the New York University and Freie Universität in Berlin.
The impact of Tusk’s nomination on one of the most important positions in the EU on the European energy and climate policy depends on three main factors: his standing in the Council, evolution of his perspectives on the renewable energy and climate policy and, last but not least, developments in Poland after he has been replaced by a less marked personality.
Tusk versus the rest
Leading the biggest party in Poland for over a decade and being the longest-serving democratically elected prime minister of this country requires strong personality. In the case of Donald Tusk this feature has been further strengthened by the constant struggles with his main opponent, Jarosław Kaczyński. This attribute may have a big impact on Tusk’s impact on the European policy negotiated in Brussels. As opposed to his predecessor, Tusk is not someone eager to find a compromise. Much more he is ready to put everything at stake to achieve his goals. Poland’s success during the negotiations over the EU budget perspective 2014-2020 and repeated vetoes of the European 2050 renewable energy and climate roadmaps are a result of such an approach. This doesn’t bode well for the future of the European energy and climate policy, especially when the discussion over EU energy climate policy targets for 2030 and global climate negotiations are approaching a decisive phase.
But the decision-making process at the European level is very different than the one at the national level. Whereas in Poland Tusk did not hesitate to take advantage of his prerogatives as the Prime Minister and could easily ignore or deride Kaczyński’s conspiracy theories, in Brussels he will have to deal with much stronger personalities with more rational arguments. Although Tusk is a good speaker, due to his limited language skills he will not be able to take a full advantage of this skill at the European level. But Donald Tusk has an advantage, that few others politicians have: the positive image that Poland – with the exception of its disastrous energy and climate policy – enjoys abroad. As a prime minister of that country for over seven years he has contributed significantly to creating this image. This will allow him to take a stronger position not as a compromise seeker but as an agenda setter – again not really good news for the global climate negotiations.
Although it may be good for the process of the European integration to have a much more visible person at the helm of the European Union, development of renewable energy and more ambitious climate policy will not be on his agenda. Therefore a much more active role of the other countries will be required to push European policy in both areas forward, before the EU becomes the laggard of the global climate negotiations. As the president of the European Council Tusk will probably try to force his idea of the Energy Union – and he should be supported in doing so under the condition that less attention will be given to coal and more to renewables and energy efficiency.
Tusk versus renewables and climate
Donald Tusk’s fierce opposition to climate policy and development of renewable sources of energy has led to Poland’s miserable progress on both. It is however not clear, to what degree this opposition has been caused by domestic factors, i.e. the pressure from the coal industry and the willingness to save Polish state-owned energy companies from the fate of their German counterparts, or whether this opposition resulted from his personal convictions. But independently from the reason, both factors will change. When in Brussels Tusk will not be held hostage to Polish coal miners demanding state support to save unprofitable coal mines. Also the close connections with the Polish energy companies will be cut.
At the same time as President of the European Council Tusk will be approached by a number of different stakeholders: not only lobby groups defending coal and nuclear energy but associations and organizations representing renewable energy sector and fighting for climate protection. This will give Tusk a chance to take a broader look at the developments in the EU and globally. Whether or not he will use this opportunity to broaden his horizons remains to be seen.
Poland without Tusk
After over seven years, in the coming weeks Tusk is going to give up his position as Poland’s longest-serving democratically elected prime minister. Although it has not been the best time for the Poland’s renewable energy and climate policy, it was an era of relative stability in the country which had seen 13 prime ministers between 1989 and 2007. Tusk’s Civic Platform party has undergone a number of upheavals since it was created in 2001 but has been held together by Tusk with a strong hand. But this came at a price: to avoid competition Tusk replaced all opponents, who could one day take over his leading position. As a result, although there are some strong personalities in the party, it will be difficult for any of them, especially Tusk’s potential successor Ewa Kopacz, to keep the party strong and united.
Taking this into consideration it may be clearer, why Tusk’s long-time opponent and leader of the conservative Law and Justice Party (PIS), Jarosław Kaczyński, was among the first who congratulated Tusk on the nomination. Already in the recent surveys Kaczyński’s party was given a small advantage over the Civic Platform. Potentially weakened and even divided Civic Platform will allow Kaczyński to win the next parliamentary elections scheduled for late 2015. This would mean a disaster for Poland and this country’s renewable energy and climate policy: Kaczyński, who until recently took Hungarian PM Viktor Orban as an example to follow, considers climate change to be a fallacy. Also renewables are strongly criticized in his party, especially wind energy. Instead stronger support for lignite and hard coal is the main pillar of the party’s energy policy.
A black day?
Although possibly positive in some other areas, Tusk’s nomination as the next Mr. Europe is a major game changer for the European energy and climate policy. And it is not a good one. At least initially coal and nuclear lobbies in Brussels may hope for a friendlier ear to their arguments and Poland’s opposition to renewable energy and climate policy may become even more decisive after conservative Law and Justice takes over power in Poland. Stronger activity of the other governments will be needed to balance Poland’s tendency to obstruct European energy and climate targets. Otherwise the 30 August 2014 will be remembered as a dark day for the European renewable energy industry, climate protection and thus the fate of the future generations.