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.
In doing so, the Court has granted the Czech Republic’s request for a temporary cessation of activity at the mine until the case it brought against Poland is fully resolved.
The Turów mine is located close to the Czech and German border and has been accused of draining water supplies in Czechia and risking subsidence in Germany.
The dispute has caused tensions around the border, including activist-led protests against the mine on the Czech side and anti-Czech campaigns on the Polish side.
In its ruling, the Court ordered the mine’s closure as an interim measure because it estimated that not doing so would risk causing “serious and irreparable harm to the interests of the applicant”.
“The pleas of fact and law raised by the Czech Republic justify the granting of the interim measures,” the Court said, considering that continued mining in Turów would be likely to “have negative effects on the level of groundwater in Czech territory”.
“Indeed, those activities entail an uninterrupted flow of a considerable volume of water from Czech territory to Polish territory, causing undoubted deterioration in the level of groundwater in Czech territory that could threaten the drinking water supply of the populations dependent on the affected bodies of water,” the ruling said.
The licence of the Turów mine expired in April 2020 but was extended by the Polish government until 2026, and again in April this year, until 2044. However, the Czech Republic disputed the prolongation, saying the mine had been operating illegally since then.
The European Commission intervened in the case, acknowledging that Poland had breached EU laws requiring consultations to take place with neighbouring countries. However, it added that Czech allegations on the impact of the mine on its waterways were unfounded, based on the evidence provided.
This decision was considered insufficient by those on the Czech side, who felt they had no other option but to take the case to the European Court of Justice.
The company that runs the mine, state-owned PGE, has previously warned that an abrupt shutdown would cost thousands of jobs and put the country’s coal transition in jeopardy.
“There are nearly 80,000 workers and co-workers and their families whose livelihoods depend on the existence of the mine and power plant – the closure of the mine will lead to a collapse of the entire region, whose inhabitants have no real prospect of finding other job or alternative sources of income in the short term,” said Wioletta Czemiel-Grzybowska, president of the Management Board of PGE GiEK.
Others have warned that the continuation of the Turów mine could actually damage the transition. The European Commission has warned that a continuation of activity there beyond 2030 would mean the region would lose out on EU funds allocated for the green transition.
The Court also dismissed Poland’s claim that the measure would lead to the irreversible shutdown of the Turów power plant because of its “technological configuration” and said that, although taking the plant offline may cause disruption, network operators could compensate.
“Furthermore, the purported harm alleged by Poland resulting from the impossibility of carrying out important projects and investments in the energy field cannot, in any event, take precedence over considerations relating to the environment and human health,” said the Court.
The ruling was welcomed on the Czech side. “The licence for Turów was prolonged illegally, and has emboldened PGE to such an extent that it thinks it can ram through a second licence extension for Turów to 2044 without even stopping to answer for its previous transgressions,” said Czech lawyer, Petra Urbanová.
“This ruling shows that the European Court of Justice has no intention of playing along with PGE’s games. The court has rightly acted to prevent a further escalation of the crisis while the Czech Republic’s case is heard. We expect the court to take the same firm approach when it delivers its final ruling,” she added.
[Edited by Frédéric Simon]