The proposal from Poland’s prime minister, Donald Tusk, to “rehabilitate” coal in order to strengthen the European Union’s energy security proves that Poland’s push for an energy union is first and foremost a coal lobby in disguise (“Pressing need to correct failure on energy efficiency”, 24-30 April, and “EU to hold gas price talks with Russia and Ukraine”, EuropeanVoice.com, 2 May).
Tusk is using the Ukrainian crisis to try to achieve the same goal that he had two years ago when Poland was vehemently vetoing an increase in the EU’s climate targets: protecting Poland’s failing coal industry.
Just two weeks ago, Poland’s biggest coal mining company announced it would cut back production due to falling sales. Coal imports to Poland from Russia are growing, amounting to almost 7 million tonnes in 2013, more than 60% of Poland’s total coal imports. Generous public financial aid schemes for coal-based power in Poland, which reached €40.5 billion between 1990 and 2012 according to a new report prepared by the Warsaw Institute for Economic Studies, has failed to reverse this trend because the industry is simply not competitive with foreign coal sources.
Within the context of the Ukrainian crisis, the Polish government is calling on the EU to speak with one voice, but the very same government – the only one among all EU member states – has been blocking the EU from adopting a strong and united position in the global climate talks, weakening the EU’s negotiating power and undermining its credibility. Today, under its new rhetoric, the Polish government is again focusing solely on its aim of protecting its coal industry. Tusk wants a joint EU energy policy to be pursued solely when it can serve Polish fossil-fuel interests.
By proposing to reward the use of domestic coal, Tusk wants to strengthen the competitive position of the Polish state-owned mining and power companies. According to his proposal, power plants “using fossil fuels extracted locally or identified as key for energy security” should be allowed to receive state aid, and to pollute without penalty. Tusk’s proposal not only goes against the EU’s ‘polluter pays’ principle, but would also undermine the EU’s carbon market and fair competition on the EU’s common market.
Tusk’s energy union proposal would have more credibility if it presented specific plans to boost energy efficiency and renewables development. European Commission analysis shows that with multiple climate and energy targets for 2030 – including greenhouse-gas reductions, renewable energies and energy efficiency – Poland and other low-income EU member states would be the greatest beneficiaries of lower energy imports and cuts in the costs of imported fuels – the same countries that are most exposed to insecure Russian energy imports. To make things worse, Tusk’s proposal is probably just a first move in trying to secure the position of energy commissioner for a Polish candidate in the next Commission. So it seems there are many good reasons to look beyond Tusk’s energy union rhetoric.
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