Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Here comes Poland: the EU's 'anti-environment' presidency?

The Hungarian presidency of the EU, which is now drawing to a close, got off to a rough start. Just before taking the reigns of the rotating ministerial presidency, which goes to a different EU country every six months, they passed a media law which critics said severely curtailed press freedom in the country. The European Commission became so concerned that in January, just 48 hours into the Hungarian presidency, they warned Hungary that the media crackdown could be a violation of EU law.

Hungary eventually relented, a little, but the timing of the law's enactment meant that for the last six months the Hungarian presidency has been associated with media repression. Many were questioning how a country which seemed to be so far outside the European mainstream in respecting press freedom could lead the bloc. And really, these sorts of questions never went away - particularly as a new controversy erupted with the ruling party unilaterally drawing up a new constitution for the country.

That pattern may be about to be repeated with the Polish presidency. Just nine days before Poland is set to take over the EU presidency, the Polish environment minister shocked his counterparts by announcing at an environment ministers meeting in Luxembourg yesterday that Poland would single-handedly block adoption of the EU's 2050 energy roadmap. The policy document sets a non-binding EU goal for a 40% cut in carbon emissions by 2030, a 60% cut by 2040 and an 80% cut by 2050, compared to 1990 levels. The Polish minister said it was just all too much for Poland, which generates 90% of its electricity from coal. "We expect higher solidarity in Europe, understanding the situation of particular Member States," the minister complained.

The key language Poland objected to was a line in the text that said it is feasable for the EU to reduce its emissions by 25% by 2020, which would be higher than the 20% commitment it has legally committed itself to as part of international climate negotiations. Many member states including the UK, Germany, Spain, Denmark and Greece havecalled for the EU to commit to reduce more, and Poland is afraid this roadmap, if adopted, would be a green light for that.

Several environment ministers were fuming as they left yesterday's meeting – particularly those from countries who have called on the EU to go beyond its international commitment to lower emissions by 20% by 2020. British energy secretary Chris Huhne said after the meeting that it was "a dark day for Europe's leading role in tackling climate change."

Given that decisions in this area need the unanimous support of member states, and that Poland will be deciding what goes on the European Council's agenda over the next six months, it is now expected that an agreement to move beyond 20% won't be possible until Denmark takes over the presidency at the end of the year.

There is a bit of panic running through environmental circles today as they fear that Poland will put up a roadblock to several environmental issues over the next six months. "They’ve clearly decided to put their foot on the brake on any meaningful environmental progress," a WWF director said after the vote. Friends of the Earth echoed this, calling the decision an "ominous sign for the next EU presidency." In particular, it seems certain that with Poland leading such vigorous opposition to the EU raising its emissions reduction commitment, the EU will not be able raise that commitment to 25%, as many had expected, before December's climate change summit in South Africa.


Daniel Antal said...

The Tories are not allied with the Polish governing party. PiS is actually the opposition of the Tusk cabinet

Litterbasket said...

This is the same Polish Environment Minister who recently said "Growth is a dead end"?

apt_brussels said...

And the Polish Commissioner in the European Commission (though formally independent), even questioned the validity of global warming and human influence therein.

This promises to be a dark 6 months in environmental politics and policy at a time when action is highly called for.

Anonymous said...

@apt_brussels and the author:
just one note - it's not that Poland is the ominous Eastern European country to lambast any EU's "environmental initiative"; the Polish "veto" is an effect of the communist economy hugely dependant to coal which is not so easy to reform in a few years ;Hence it's NOT a political issue as apt_brussels suggests but a matter of life/death where the whole Polish economy is at stake; Generally - it's the problem of the whole "New Europe" but Poland as the biggest country of those who joined the EU recently acts as a smaller states' defender; Therefore I would say it's rather the Old Europe's lack of solidarity (do you remember what President Sarkozy said in 2008 after the introduction of the carbon emissions cut plan?) than the Eastern European/Polish obstruction