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Ceasefire in Polish-Czech coal mine border dispute

by host

The Czech Republic and Poland struck a deal Thursday ending their dispute over the Turów open pit coal mine — a fight that had soured relations between the two allies and reached the EU’s top court.

The dispute had also added to other long-running stresses between Brussels and Warsaw over rule of law.

The agreement, which would see Poland saddled with millions in payments and fines, was announced by Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and his Czech counterpart Petr Fiala.

Under the terms of the deal, Warsaw will pay Prague €45 million and finance measures aimed at preventing the mine, which is located near the Czech and German frontiers, from negatively affecting the lives of people living on the Czech side of the border. The payment will be split, with the Polish government paying €35 million and state-controlled utility PGE, the owner of Turów, covering the remainder, according to Poland’s Onet news portal.

In addition to paying for infrastructure meant to resolve an issue with the water levels on the Czech side of the border, Warsaw also committed to taking steps to shield nearby municipalities from noise and light pollution attributable to Turów and to underwrite local and regional environmental projects.

“This agreement undoubtedly brings tangible benefits for the sites affected by the activities of the Turów mine and for their inhabitants,” said Fiala.

The agreement does not mention how long the mine will continue to operate, but provides for the establishment of a Polish-Czech transition commission that will draw up a strategy meant to reduce the socioeconomic impact of an eventual end to coal mining in the region.

Fiala said that if the anti-pollution measures don’t work, then the mine will have to halt operations; Morawiecki said if there is another dispute, the arbiter will be the Court of Justice of the EU. The agreement lasts for five years.

“In my opinion this is an enormous success because it allows us to remove a huge barrier, a boulder, that was impeding our relations between Poland and the Czech Republic,” Morawiecki said.

“This agreement comes at the right moment,” he added, saying he had also discussed “geopolitical problems, energy challenges related to EU climate policy and Russian gas policy” during talks with Fiala.

The Polish PM then traveled to the mine to tell workers that his government had defended their interests.

“No judge in Luxembourg, no Brussels bureaucrat, can dictate the conditions under which we rule ourselves in Poland,” he said.

“We defended the Polish case until the end, despite the penalties imposed on us, despite the blackmail, we did not bow down and we achieved our aims,” Moraweicki told the miners, saying that Polish energy security concerns made it impossible for Warsaw to shut down the mine; Poland generates about 70 percent of its power from coal.

The agreement was announced hours after CJEU Advocate General Priit Pikamäe published his opinion on the Czech suit which concluded that Poland infringed EU law by extending Turów’s operating license for six years to 2026 without carrying out an adequate environmental impact assessment.

The advocate general’s opinion came two days after a Warsaw court ruled that the Polish government had broken the law by adopting an incomplete environmental impact assessment in 2020 to justify extending the mine’s lifespan to 2044.

Warsaw will avoid having a formal court ruling on the mine if Prague withdraws its lawsuit, as is expected, but it is not clear if that will free Poland from more than €68 million in penalties accrued as a result of its refusal to comply with a CJEU order to suspend operations at Turów while the case was being heard.

Whether Poland is made to pay “depends on the will of the European Commission,” Hubert Smoliński, a lawyer with the Frank Bold Foundation, told Greenpeace Poland.

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