Poland’s veto on EU climate laws ‘has no legal basis’


EXCLUSIVE: Poland’s use of a veto to block EU climate goals for 2050 has no legal basis, according to internal legal documents from the Council of the European Union, obtained by EURACTIV.

Polish media have reported that Warsaw may try to wield a veto against measures supporting carbon market reform and the EU’s low carbon roadmap during a meeting of EU environment ministers taking place in Luxembourg today (25 October).

The Polish veto is anticipated as the Council, representing the 27 EU member states, tries to adopt a common position for the UN climate summit in Doha next month.

But Warsaw's block on climate issues has no legal basis and may be circumvented easily by other EU member states as unanimity is not required to vote the common position at today's Environment Council meeting, EURACTIV has learned.

“A qualified majority of weighted votes in favour cast by at least two-thirds of members” is all that such decisions require, according to a legal opinion cited by the Council’s General-Secretariat (GSC) in response to a transparency request by the environmental group WWF.

The advice was written by the then-legal counsel, Jean-Claude Piris in 2004, in response to a November 2003 dispute at the Council over the breakdown of the Stability and Growth Pact

'Unanimity is just a habit from the past'

“Unanimity is just a habit from the past to look for consensus,” said Jo Leinen, a German Socialist MEP and former chair of the European Parliament’s environment and constitutional affairs committees.

“There is no legal basis for the Environment Council to take decisions unanimously and with 27 members in the EU now, it has proved to be impractical and counter-productive.”

Leinen called on environment ministers to raise the question at today’s Council to prevent any further loss of the EU’s credibility in international climate talks. But it remains to be seen whether Warsaw will broach the subject first.

Poland used a veto to stymie EU climate policies three times between June 2011 and June 2012, a tactic which Leinen said was “unacceptable”.

Mark Johnston, a senior policy advisor for WWF said that Piris’s legal opinion showed that “Poland’s blocking tactics are based on little other than hot air,” referring to the so-called ‘hot air’ surplus credits of the Kyoto-era that threaten to swamp the international carbon market.

Doha summit

Warsaw, whose electricity system is 90% coal-dependent, objects to any tightening of the 2020 decarbonisation goals, or reform of depressed carbon markets in Europe or abroad.

A press statement by the country’s environment minister, Martin Korolec, expressed strong opposition to proposed Council conclusions on the Doha summit, seen by EURACTIV, which:

  • Reaffirm the EU’s low-carbon roadmap objective of an 80-95% cut in carbon dioxide emissions by 2050, based on 1990 levels;
  • Call for a review of the Kyoto Protocol’s ambition levels in 2013-2015;
  • Urge “Annex B” states in the Kyoto Protocol (including the then-EU-15 and Poland) to increase their emissions reductions pledges in a second Kyoto commitment period;
  • Se this as a condition for allowing the carry-over into the next Kyoto period of surplus AAUs (Assigned Amount Units), a ‘hot air’ carbon credit available to former Soviet bloc countries under the Kyoto Protocol’s Joint Implementation Mechanism, which Poland has substantial holdings in;
  • Strictly limit domestic use and trading of AAUs.

Korolec said that the issue of Poland’s carbon credit surplus was of particularly “great importance” to Warsaw. In a tweet, he added: “Hope for a wise compromise on Doha conclusions”.

Environment ministry sources in Warsaw declined to comment on whether they might use a veto in the Council – or on what legal grounds, if so.

Other countries hiding behind Poland?

Environmental NGOs argue the Polish veto dispute has broader implications for EU democracy and are determined to put up a fight.

The WWF issued a public access request last June, asking for a “document describing the basis on which the Council adopts conclusions”, eliciting a reply from an official identifying Piris's advice in 2004.

But the Council has refused to publish it, describing the opinion's contents as “exceptionally broad” and “extremely sensitive”. Disclosing the advice could discourage the Council from requesting such advice in future for fear of public reaction, and undermine confidence in the EU legal system, it said. WWF is appealing.

German MEP Leinen believes the problem with establishing a consensus on the law in this case is the attitude of EU states such as the UK, which support climate targets but hoard their sovereignty.

“Other countries are hiding behind Poland when it comes to the change of procedure because they could find themselves in the same situation as a minority losing a decision,” he said. “But that’s politics.”

Leinen’s call for the EU to stand firm against Poland was backed by a British Labour MEP who sits on the European Parliament's environment committee, Linda McAvan.

“I would like the other members of the Council to assert its actual rules,” she told EURACTIV.

“The ministers should give a strong mandate to the Commission to push on with international climate negotiations,” she added. “The EU has always shown leadership and it shouldn’t be put off by one country’s view.”

The EU's position for the UN Framework Climate Change Conference talks, agreed by EU heads of states at a summit in 2009, is that emissions from developed countries should be slashed by up to 95% by 2050.

This is the minimum that scientists from the UN Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change say is needed to keep global temperature rises below 2°C, beyond which global warming could become runaway.

Developing countries should cut their own emissions by half over the same period, EU leaders said. To achieve its own target, the EU's low-carbon roadmap has set a series of milestones including a 40% emissions reduction by 2030 and a 60% goal for 2040 in order to reach the 80%-95% objective for 2050.

The European Commission presented its low-carbon roadmap in March 2011, proposing to slash greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by as early as 2020. This was above the legally binding objective of 20% that EU leaders have signed up to for 2020.

But Poland and other central and eastern EU countries have so far resisted those plans, saying the EU should wait first for other countries to take similar measures.

  • 25 Oct. 2012: Environment Council in Luxembourg
  • 26 Nov. 2012: Doha Climate Summit due to begin


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