Clash over coal mine escalates, Czech minister heads to Warsaw

Czechia and Poland were the closest allies during negotiations about the distribution of EU green funding, but no longer. [Shutterstock/Lukasz Barzowski]

Czech Environment Minister Anna Hubáčková (KDU-ČSL, EPP) is heading to Poland amid rising tensions between the two countries. In past months, Czechia blamed Poland for illegal coal mining in the bordering area and asked Poland for financial compensation. While the political representation of both sides sends positive signals hoping for an out-of-court settlement, the Polish coal mining company is adding fuel to the fire.

During negotiations about the distribution of EU green funding, Czechia and Poland were the closest allies, but this is no longer the case. While drawdowns of EU money were a common interest of both countries, the green transformation of neighbouring coal regions is going through a rough patch.

The Czech government filed a lawsuit against Poland, accusing its authorities of illegally extending the licence of the Turów coal mine, located close to the Czech border.

The EU Court of Justice in Luxembourg has already issued a preliminary ruling and ordered Poland to stop mining immediately, as it causes water scarcity and pollution of Czech territory. Warsaw continues to disregard the order despite a hefty €500,000 daily fine.

The newly appointed Czech Environment Minister is now heading to Warsaw to strike a much-awaited deal that could solve the dispute without further intervention of the European Court of Justice.

“It is important for me to highlight that the Czech side is enormously interested in dispute settlement, and we are doing everything to solve it as soon as possible,” Minister Hubáčková said ahead of her trip to Warsaw.

Optimism is shared on both sides of the borders. “Over long weeks, the previous [Czech] government only pretended that it wanted to find a compromise. There was no real will,” said Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Paweł Jabłoński. “It was probably because of the concerns how it [the compromise over Turów] may be received by the public. The new government appears to have a slightly different approach,” he told public radio broadcaster Polskie Radio.

“The new government won the vote of confidence last week, so now we can return to the table. Poland remains ready to solve the conflict in bilateral talks,” he added.

Meanwhile, the PGE – a state-owned Polish energy giant – has hit back.

“After 18 rounds of negotiations in 2021 and the Czech government’s attacks on Turów, it turns out that the Czech mine was operated without an environmental assessment for the last year and the decision issued at the end of December was not preceded by mandatory cross-border agreements with Poland,” vice president of the PGE’s Management Board Wanda Buk wrote on Twitter.

The Czech mine called ČSM is expected to be completely closed until the end of 2022, while the Turów mine was granted a licence valid until 2044.

(Aneta Zachová | EURACTIV.cz, Aleksandra Krzysztoszek | EURACTIV.pl)

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