Polish PM under pressure as EU agrees environmental package

By bne IntelliNews October 24, 2014

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The EU agreed a package to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40% below 1990 levels by 2030 at its energy summit early on October 24. The deal was passed despite opposition from Central European states, and threatens to put huge pressure on Polish Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz.

The agreement was hammered out after lengthy negotiations, according to press reports, and also includes commitments to raise renewable energy output to 27% of demand, as well as improving energy efficiency. The passage of the deal is a blow to coal-rich Poland, which is struggling to keep its coal mining industry afloat and had threatened ahead of the summit to use its veto.

The Polish leader has been under huge pressure at home to protect the country's struggling miners since she took on the job in September. Poland argues that CEE states need more time than those to the west to restructure industry, and that the deal will hit the developing economies. The country is heavily dependent on coal for electricity generation, and has a huge programme to build more coal-powered power plants as it bids to raise energy security.

However, Warsaw's attempts to rally fellow CEE member states to help it put up stiff opposition flopped under pressure. In the lead up to the summit, the likes of the Czech Republic had signalled they may accept the deal. Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said on October 23 that Prague will pledge to boost renewables as long as it does not lead to a significant hike in energy prices, and does not restrict decision-making on the country's energy mix. That appears to be a nod towards plans to expand the country's nuclear capacity.

In the face of crumbling support from the neighbours, Kopacz was speculated to be backing down. Local press reported as she arrived for the summit that the PM feared a veto would simply see the limits pushed through under EU directives, and that she would instead concentrate on sweetening the deal.

Scrambling

That appears to be the route she took. "It was not easy, not at all, but we managed to reach a fair decision," said European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, according to AP. "It sets Europe on an ambitious yet cost-effective climate and energy path."

Van Rompuy said poorer EU member states would get help reaching the targets. He pledged "extra support for lower-income countries, both through adequate targets and through additional funds to help them catch up in their clean-energy transition."

Kopacz did her best to insist the deal will not hit Poland hard, despite the fact that the government is already scrambling to find ways to protect its miners from low prices and competition from cheap imports from the likes of Russia. Warsaw is currently mulling a plan to restructure the industry.

"I said that we will not return from this summit with new [financial] burdens, and indeed there are no new burdens," Kopacz told Polish reporters.

However, unless she has something mightily impressive up her sleeve, the PM is set to face huge pressure once she gets home. The nationalist opposition Law and Justice (PiS) will be keen to press home her failure to block the deal, with Kopacz facing her first electoral test next month during regional elections. "Polish business must come first," PiS spokesman Adam Hofman thundered ahead of the summit.

The EU deal will hardly help Kopacz, who succeeded predecessor Donald Tusk in September, stamp her authority on the centrist Civic Platform party before next year's parliamentary elections. She has staked her reputation on a policy built around domestic and foreign policy safety, something which a steep increase in power prices would undermine.

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