Red Line

Clearly a woman on a mission, Ewa Kopacz, who has taken over from Donald Tusk as prime minister, said in the Polish parliament while setting out the government’s programme between now and the general election a year hence, that: “What was planned to be achieved in three years’ time, my government will do in 12 months.” Among the assorted goodies: more defence spending, support for SMEs, changing construction regulations inter alia to speed up the construction of single-family houses, and support for businesses affected by Russian import bans, there was the familiar expression of support for Polish coal.

Indeed, even as she was speaking, a peaceful demonstration on miners had gathered outside in eager anticipation of her words. “In Poland, coal is of strategic importance,” said the new prime minister and her government would work on laws that would protect the Polish mining sector from unfair competition and would also work on increasing the profitability of the industry. She also said that her government would push for an energy union and that it would not agree to EU regulations that would make energy more expensive for Poles.

Wasting no time yesterday in Brussels, during her first trip abroad as prime minister, the prime minister sought to draw a red line on EU climate change targets. She told Herman van Rompuy the European Council president (who will be replaced by Donald Tusk on 1st December) that Poland would not accept new EU climate change policies if they cause a rise in energy prices and laid out the expectations of the Polish government at the European Council meeting later in October.

The October summit will try to reach a consensus on CO2 emissions policy ahead of the next UN Climate Change Conference in Paris next year. In July, the European Commission proposed reducing energy use in the EU by 30 percent by 2030, although individual member states would be able to decide whether to opt in to the targets. Poland could use a veto on any proposal that would cause electricity prices to rise for consumers and “Poles will not lose out when it comes to electricity prices,” she said in Brussels. Poland has an economy heavily dependent on coal (and even imports coal from Russia despite high domestic production, a cause of some political disquiet) the consumption of which increased last year. Donald Tusk, while prime minister, regularly expressed support for coal (please see Coal Country).

And, in a rare departure from the usual two Poles three opinions approach, Elzbieta Bienkowska, who was infrastructure minister in the Polish government, and will now be the new EU commissioner for the single market expressed the same opinion as the prime minster. While being questioned by members of the European Parliament during a session to vet the proposed new EU commissioners, Bienkowska said that although targets on carbon emissions must be met, the EU cannot dictate the energy mix to individual member states. The Polish government has fought against some of the climate change legislation, claiming that it risks stifling economic growth in a nation heavily reliant on coal for its energy needs.

Bienkowska is also reported as having told left wing and green MEPs that EU targets to reduce carbon emissions are “sometimes exaggerated.” She said that she will reflect on measures to support clean technologies and next year will propose “a full roadmap with all actions” to support industry competitiveness at the heart of Europe 2020.” However according to Bienkowska coal has the right to stay in the energy mix provided that the member state sticks to the rules.

So, climate changists, you have been warned. The climate may be changing but Poland’s love of coal has not. And the prospects for a change in attitude, at least on the part of the prime minister, do not look good. After all, it was Ewa Kopacz who likened Poland to a “reasonable Polish woman” – which might be an oxymoron.

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