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Czech Republic to sue Poland over Turów coal mine

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Local groups and NGOs today welcomed the Czech government’s decision to file a lawsuit at the European Court of Justice against the Polish government for the illegal operation of the Turów lignite coal mine, which has been dug right up to the Czech and German borders, damaging local water supplies for nearby communities. This is the first such legal case for the Czech Republic and the first in EU’s history where one member state sues another for environmental reasons, writes Europe Beyond Coal Communications Office Alistair Clewer.

Milan Starec, a Czech citizen from Liberec region (Uhelná village): “The decision by our government to file a lawsuit against Poland comes as a relief for us who live next to the mine. In 2020 alone, the groundwater level in the area fell by eight meters, which is double what PGE said would happen by 2044. Our worries have been replaced with fear. It is crucial that our government demands a cessation of illegal mining as PGE still refuses to accept its responsibility, while asking for permission to destroy our water resources and neighborhood for another 23 years.” 

Kerstin Doerenbruch, Greenpeace Berlin: “Germany is also stepping up in the case against Turów, with regional representatives and citizens in Saxony bringing their own complaint before the European Commission in January. We now call on the German government to step up and protect people’s homes and the Neiße river by joining the Czech lawsuit against Poland.” 

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Anna Meres, Climate and Energy Campaigner, Greenpeace Poland: “Poland has acted recklessly and unlawfully by issuing a permit for the further expansion, so it is no surprise that this case has been brought to the European Court of Justice. Poland’s increasingly irrational support for coal expansion is not only harming health, water supplies, and worsening the climate crisis: it’s isolating us from our friends and neighbours, and robbing our workers and communities of better, more sustainable jobs. 78 percent of Poles want to abandon coal by 2030, it’s time to listen to them, to stop burdening border communities, and to plan a better future for all.”

Zala Primc, Europe Beyond Coal Campaigner: “People in surrounding countries are paying the price for Poland’s push to mine coal for decades to come with their health and water security. We call on the European Commission, which is responsible for ensuring that EU laws are implemented, to start an infringement procedure against the Polish government, and to become a party to the Turów case in front of the EU Court of Justice.

  1. The European Commission’s recently released a reasoned opinion which stated that multiple violations of EU law. The negotiations between the two countries came to a standstill, as Poland rejected the Czech Republic’s conditions for a settlement. The Turow mine, which is owned by Polish state-owned utility PGE, has been operating illegally, after the Polish government extended its licence by six years in April 2020, despite failing to carry out a correct public consultation or an environmental impact assessment, which are required by EU law. PGE even applied for a prolongation of the mining concession from 2026 until 2044, which would include an expansion of the mine, while negotiations with the Czech government and the affected Liberec Region were still happening, but none of the Czech parties was informed. A decision is expected in April 2021.
  2. A German expert study also exposed impacts the Turów mine has on the German side of the border: the pollution it causes at the Lusatian Neisse River, lowering of the groundwater and the subsidence that could damage houses around the city of Zittau.  The study also estimates that water shortages could mean it will take 144 years to fill the open pit once it has been closed – much longer than claimed by PGE (https://bit.ly/3uoPO7s). English summary: https://bit.ly/2GTebWO.
  3. The German expert study prompted the Lord Mayor of Zittau Thomas Zenker, Daniel Gerber, Member of Saxon Parliament, and other citizens of Saxony to also file a complaint with the European Commission in January (https://bit.ly/2NLLQVY). In February, the case was also dealt with by the Saxon Parliament, whose members called on the German government to accede to the Czech lawsuit if it was brought before the EU Court of Justice (https://bit.ly/3slypLp).  
  4. Numerous efforts have been made so far to rouse the European Commission into action: interventions by Members of the European Parliament (https://bit.ly/2G6FH2H), a call for action by the mayor of the German city Zittau ([https://bit.ly/3selwTe), petitions by Czechs and affected citizens (https://bit.ly/2ZCnErN), a study highlighting the negative impacts the mine is having on the Czech side (https://bit.ly/2NSEgbR), a formal complaint by the Czech city Liberec (https://bit.ly/2NLM27E) and a resolution by the European Greens (https://bit.ly/3qDisQ9). The International Commission for the Protection of the Odra River from Pollution (ICPO), which consists of Polish, German and Czech delegates, has also become involved in the Turów case, classifying the mine as a “supra-regionally significant problem” that requires coordinated action between the three countries (https://bit.ly/3btUd0n).

Europe Beyond Coal is an alliance of civil society groups working to catalyze the closures of coal mines and power plants, prevent the building of any new coal projects and hasten the just transition to clean, renewable energy and energy efficiency. Our groups are devoting their time, energy and resources to this independent campaign to make Europe coal free by 2030 or sooner. www.beyond-coal.eu 

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Czech Republic

Czech president 'stable' in intensive care unit

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Czech President Milos Zeman (pictured) was in a stable condition in an intensive care unit on Monday (11 October), a hospital spokeswoman said, as his illness delayed the initial steps in post-election talks to form a new government.

The unexpected development complicates efforts to form a new government. Zeman and Babis, who appears to have been weakened by revelations in the Pandora Papers leaks, were expected to meet on Sunday morning in what some opposition members interpreted as a sign that the president might seek to keep the prime minister in power despite the election result. But shortly after the meeting was scheduled to take place, Zeman was seen being transported to a hospital by ambulance.

Czech opposition seeks to oust prime minister hit by Pandora Papers disclosures

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In a news conference on Zeman’s hospitalization, hospital director Miroslav Zavoral cited “complications accompanying his chronic illness” but did not elaborate on the illness from which the president suffers or whether he was conscious.

Zeman has been reported to suffer from diabetes and neuropathy.

On Monday, the hospital released a brief statement only saying he was in stable condition after being treated in intensive care.

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Zeman’s hospitalization adds further uncertainty to the outcome of the election, which left the opposition with a far clearer path than Babis’s party to form a government — but did not fully block the prime minister’s chances of leading a minority government with the support of the president.

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Czech Republic

Pandora Papers finds Czech Prime Minister Babiš in its crosshairs

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The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), now famous for a series of investigations uncovering dodgy financial dealings has hit the headlines again, this time with nearly 12 million financial records, linked to 14 offshore service providers, and more than 90 countries and territories.

Among the dealings, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš has been found to have bought a chateau on the French Riviera for $22 million through offshore companies. ICIJ’s Czech partner Investigace.cz found that neither the chateau, nor the companies involved in its ownership, appear in the register of financial interests declared by Babiš as a politician and required by Czech law.

The revelations come just one week before Czech parliamentary elections. Babiš has always positioned himself as a politician who was willing to stand up to tax evasion and increase transparency. He recently invited Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban to help him on the campaign trail, like Orban he has faced accusations of personal enrichment assisted by European funding. Babiš has rejected the allegations, blaming the Czech mafia.

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Hungary's Orban hits Czech campaign trail to back PM Babis

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Czech Republic's Prime Minister Andrej Babis and Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban review the guard of honour during the welcoming ceremony at the Kramar's Villa in Prague, Czech Republic, September 29, 2021. REUTERS/David W Cerny
Czech Republic's Prime Minister Andrej Babis meets with Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban at the Kramar's Villa in Prague, Czech Republic, September 29, 2021. REUTERS/David W Cerny

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban backed his Czech counterpart Andrej Babis' s re-election bid on Wednesday (29 September), making a display of the close ties between the two central European leaders who have supported each other in disputes with the EU, write Robert Muller and Jan Lopatka.

The Czech Republic holds a parliamentary election on 8-9 October. Opinion polls put Babis' centrist ANO party ahead of rivals but some show him falling short of partners to form a majority government, which could hand power to a coalition between the main opposition centre-left and centre-right groups.

On the campaign trail, accompanied by Orban, Babis stressed how he and the Hungarian leader had blocked the European Commission's plan to distribute asylum seekers around the bloc under a quota system following Europe's 2015 migration crisis.

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"We push for our national interests together" in the EU, Babis said after introducing Orban at a joint news conference in the northern town of Usti nad Laben, where the Czech leader heads the ANO party's ticket.

Orban also praised their countries' close cooperation as well as the Czech Republic's economic success.

"We in Hungary are ready to maintain close, friendly, sober cooperation with Andrej Babis's government," said Orban, whose right-wing Fidesz party has governed Hungary since 2010, often clashing with Brussels over immigration and reforms of the media, the judiciary, academic institutions and NGOs.

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Earlier this week, the Czech government agreed to send 50 police officers to help guard the Hungarian border with Serbia, which Babis also visited last week.

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Babis, a billionaire businessman, has grown increasingly positive about cooperation within the central European Visegrad Group and particularly with Orban in the past few years, despite the EU's concerns over the rule of law in Hungary.

The Czech Republic did not join the majority of EU states this year in signing a letter protesting against Hungarian legislation banning the use of materials seen as promoting homosexuality and gender reassignment at schools.

One of the two main opposition coalitions contesting the Czech election, the Pirate Party/Mayors, attacked Babis over his ties with Orban.

"Viktor Orban shifted Hungary from democracy to autocracy over the past 10 years," its chief Ivan Bartos said on Facebook.

"He liquidates free media, liquidates the opposition, free enterprise, spies on journalists... Such policy is the model for Andrej Babis."

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