Poland’s PM skips regional summit to snub Czech premier Babis over mine row

Poland’s PM skips regional summit to snub Czech premier Babis over mine row
The Turow power plant burns lignite from the nearby coal mine, and supplies up to 7% of Polish electricity. / bne
By Wojciech Kosc in Warsaw September 24, 2021

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki cancelled his appearance at a conference in Budapest on September 23 in a snub to his Czech counterpart Andrej Babis, Polish media reported.

Morawiecki was due to speak at a demographics conference in the Hungarian capital but will not show up in order to “send a signal” to Prague on the Polish disappointment about the dispute over the lignite mine in Turow.

Czechia sued Poland in the Court of Justice of the European Union earlier this year over the mine’s expansion, which, Prague claims, Poland carried out in breach of EU’s environmental laws.

Prague says that the open cast mine, which sits right on the border, is lowering the water table on the Czech side. In May, the Czechs secured an order from the CJEU, telling Poland to suspend the mine’s operations immediately or face a financial penalty.

Poland has not complied, arguing that the mine is feeding lignite to a nearby power plant, which is too big to go offline, as it supplies up to 7% of Polish electricity.

In effect, the CJEU slapped Warsaw with a daily fine of €500,000 until the order suspending the mine’s operations is met. Poland continues to refuse, citing security of its energy supplies. 

The EU said that it would deduct the fine from the money flowing to Poland as part of the bloc's funding, Polish media reported.

Apart from Morawiecki’s missing a meeting with Babis in Budapest, Poland reportedly plans to suspend cooperation with Czechia in the Visegrad Group (V4) until the mine’s case has been resolved in an amicable settlement, the news website Wirtualna Polska reported. 

Poland has long hinted that the Czechs are dodging the settlement because of the upcoming election. Babis and his party ANO are said to want to play it tough with Warsaw in the campaign, looking out for gains in domestic politics. 

"The Czech side has been constructive since the beginning of the negotiations in the Turow case, unfortunately the Polish side rejects a large part of our proposals, yet we are still open to negotiations," a Czech foreign ministry spokeswoman told Czech website Novinky. "It now depends on the Polish side whether they will have enough will to agree. "

In Poland, its coal-heavy energy mix is becoming a political issue as well. Poland's coal-fired power plants are becoming ever more expensive due to the skyrocketing cost of permits to emit carbon dioxide. Poland plans to wean itself off coal gradually to make it no more than 28% of the mix in 2040. Green organisations have called for the government to plan for an end to coal a decade earlier.