EU Commission joins Czechia in legal case over Polish coal mine

Aerial view of the Turow lignite mine in Bogatynia, south-west of Poland, 25 May 2021. [EPA-EFE/Aleksander Kozminski]

The European Commission has decided to join the Czech Republic in a bitter lawsuit against Poland over what plaintiffs say is an illegal extension of a license to operate the Turów coal mine near the Czech and German border.

“I can now confirm that the Commission has today submitted its request to intervene before the Court of Justice of the EU in Case C-121/21 Czechia v Poland,” a spokesperson said.

So far, the European Commission had been reluctant to join the case.

“We consider this step as very important. Until now, the Commission was very passive in this case, which resulted in a desperate Court case between the member states,” said Czech lawyer Petra Urbanová, who is involved in the case since the beginning.

Czechia and Poland are locked in a dispute since April 2020 when the Polish authorities prolonged a license to operate the open-pit mine located close to the German and Czech border. In February 2021, Czechia brought the case to the European Court of Justice.

Czechs argue that the Polish mine is draining their water supplies, a stance recently supported by the European Court of Justice, which preliminary ordered an immediate halt to mining activities in Turów.

However, Polish said it will not follow the Court’s decision and will continue mining in the area. “A stoppage would surely mean an ecological disaster and an energy disaster and, consequently huge social problems,” Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said at a recent EU summit in Brussels.

Poland will not comply with EU top court ruling on Turow, PM says

Poland will not comply with the ruling of the European Union’s top court, which ordered Warsaw to immediately stop mining in the Turów lignite mine on the border with the Czech Republic, Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Monday (24 May).

Negotiations ongoing

Czech and Polish lawyers are currently working on a bilateral agreement that could lead to the lawsuit’s withdrawal. Among Czech demands is a compensation of €40-50 million and a review of the permitting processes used by Polish authorities to prolong mining.

The Czech government also proposed to impose €5 million daily penalties on Poland for not suspending the mining, despite the Court’s preliminary order.

“We need the Commission to ensure that the result of this affair will not be some cheap deal but real protection of the environment and health of people which shall have priority over the plain economic interest of one company,” said Urbanová.

Greenpeace welcomed the EU’s executive decision to take part in the lawsuit.

“We are glad that the European Commission joined the court dispute. It gave a clear signal that the illegal mining must stop,” said Nikol Krejčová, head of the Greenpeace campaign against the mine’s extension.

According to Greenpeace activists, the Commission’s involvement in the case improves Czechia’s chances of reaching a favourable agreement. “In the negotiations, Czechia and the European Commission may jointly set their conditions that will be hard to reject for Poland,” Krejčová said.

In December 2019, the Commission released an opinion saying Poland had failed to properly consult neighbouring countries over the environmental impact of extending mining operations at Turów. Polish authorities seemed to ignore the recommendation and prolonged the mining license until 2026 and then again, until 2044.

A European Commission spokesperson recently confirmed that the Bogatynia region where the Turów mine is located would likely miss out on the EU’s just transition funding because of the mine’s extension.

EU court orders immediate halt to Turów mine in Poland

Mining at the contested Polish open-pit mine near Turów must stop immediately, the European Court of Justice ruled on Friday (21 May) following a complaint lodged by the Czech Republic.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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