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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.” 

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 

Czech Republic

Czech police hunt two men wanted over Salisbury novichok poisonings

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Police in the Czech Republic are hunting two men whose passports match the names of the two suspects in the Salisbury poisonings.

Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov (pictured) are wanted in the UK over the novichok attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in 2018.

Czech police said on Saturday (17 April) that they are searching for two men carrying various passports, including Russian ones under the names Petrov, 41, and Boshirov, 43.

Sergei and Yulia Skripal were attacked with novichok and found slumped on a bench in Salisbury in March
Sergei and Yulia Skripal were attacked with a nerve agent in 2018

It comes as Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said 18 Russian diplomats are being expelled over allegations that Russian intelligence services were involved in an explosion at a Czech ammunition depot in 2014.

The explosion happened on 16 October at a depot in the town of Vrbetice where 50 tonnes of ammunition was being stored. Two men died as a result. Advertisement

Mr Babis said: "There is well-grounded suspicion about the involvement of officers of the Russian intelligence service GRU... in the explosion of ammunitions depot in the Vrbetice area."

Czech foreign minister Jan Hamacek said 18 Russian embassy staff identified as secret service personnel would be ordered to leave the country within 48 hours.

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A diplomatic source cited by Russian news agency Interfax suggested the expulsions could prompt Russia to shut the Czech Republic's embassy in Moscow.

Petrov and Boshirov denied being Russian operatives or being involved in the Skripals' poisoning in March 2018.

They told Russia Today they were only in Salisbury as tourists to visit the cathedral and nearby Stonehenge.

Police published a detailed photographic account of the men's movements while in the UK.

An Interpol "red notice" and a European warrant have been issued for their arrest should they try to leave Russia.

Czech Police said in a statement that they are looking for "two persons" who "used at least two identities... in connection with the investigations of the circumstances of serious crime".

They said they were in the Czech Republic from 11 to 16 October 2014, "first in Prague, then in the Moravian-Silesian Region and the Zlin Region".

As well as Petrov and Boshirov, they also used Moldovan and Tajikistan passports under the names Nicolai Popa and Ruslan Tabarov, they added.

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Czech Republic opens a diplomatic representation in Jerusalem

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The Czech Republic has opened a diplomatic representation in Jerusalem. It is a branch of the country’s Israel embassy, writes Yossi Lempkowicz.

The opening took place last week during a ceremony attended by Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis and Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi.

“We, the Czech Republic, are opening here in Jerusalem on Washington Street our diplomatic representation,” said Babis.

While Babis noted that his country’s official embassy remains headquartered in Tel Aviv, the development serves as an indication of the Eastern European country’s tacit acceptance of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

“We will have a full-fledged diplomatic mission here in Jerusalem,” he said. “It will deal with a lot, ranging from politics and economic cooperation to the consular agenda and other topics. It will have its permanent staff and work under the lead of our embassy in Tel Aviv.”

Babis added that “it represents another milestone in our cooperation and gives evidence that we see the importance of this great city.”

In 2018, Czech President Milos Zeman announced a three-step plan to relocate the country’s embassy to Jerusalem. Zeman, who has limited powers as president, faced opposition from Babis, who cited European Union policy against opening embassies in Jerusalem.

Ashkenazi said the opening of the Czech diplomatic branch in Jerusalem ‘’shows additional proof of the depth and the scope of the friendship we share with the Czech people, and the Czech Republic and government.”

He also said he appreciates the Czech government for “leading the change in Europe towards the city of Jerusalem as a whole and towards the connection with the State of Israel.”

Another Eastern European country, Kosovo, is set to open its embassy in Jerusalem and thus will become the third country after the United States and Guatemala to make the move.

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Commission approves €1.2 billion Czech scheme to support self-employed and partners in small limited liability companies affected by coronavirus outbreak

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The European Commission has approved a €1.2 billion Czech scheme (‘compensation bonus') to support self-employed and partners in small limited liability companies affected by the coronavirus outbreak. The scheme was approved under the state aid Temporary Framework. Under the scheme, the public support will take the form of direct grants. The aim of the scheme is to mitigate the adverse effects of the coronavirus outbreak on the liquidity of the eligible small businesses for the periods when they have been – or will be – prevented, completely or partially, from carrying out business activities.

The scheme is expected to support more than 1 million self-employed and partners in small limited liability companies. The Commission found that the Czech scheme is in line with the conditions set out in the Temporary Framework. In particular, (i) the support will not exceed €225,000 per company active in the primary production of agricultural products, €270,000 per company active in the fishery and aquaculture sector, and €1.8 million per company active in all other sectors; and (ii) the aid will be granted before 31 December 2021. The Commission concluded that the measure is necessary, appropriate and proportionate to remedy a serious disturbance in the economy of a member state, in line with Article 107(3)(b) TFEU and the conditions set out in the Temporary Framework.

On this basis, the Commission approved the measure under EU state aid rules. More information on the Temporary Framework and other actions taken by the Commission to address the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic can be found here. The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case number SA.61358 in the state aid register on the Commission's competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved.

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