Poland refuses to halt disputed coal mine despite EU court penalty

·3-min read
Czechs at Polish borderlands lose water and patience in coal mine dispute

By Foo Yun Chee and Anna Koper

BRUSSELS/WARSAW (Reuters) -Poland vowed to keep its disputed Turow coal mine running on Monday despite being hit with a order to pay a 500,000 euro ($585,550) daily penalty to the European Commission for defying an earlier court ruling to halt operations.

Europe's top court, the Luxembourg-based Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), ordered the penalty on Monday.

It followed a request from the Czech Republic, which is locked in a dragging dispute with Poland over the Turow open-pit mine that sits next to their shared border. The Czech government says the mine is damaging its communities.

The mine, which produces lignite, or brown coal, has been operating for more than a century, but has recently expanded further towards the Czech border.

The penalty order could pressure Warsaw to seek a resolution with Prague after bilateral talks started in June over technical upgrades and measures to limit damage to water levels and noise and air conditions. A deal should end any legal disputes.

The Polish government said the EU court's penalty on Monday undermined those talks, and said Turow, a major source of jobs and electricity in its region, would continue operations.

"The fine mentioned by the Court of Justice of the European Union is disproportionate to the situation and is not justified by facts," Poland's government said in a statement.

"It undermines the ongoing process of reaching an amicable settlement."

The court's order comes amid other disputes Warsaw faces with the European Union, largely over the rule of law.

The Czech Republic has taken its grievance over Turow to the Commission, which last year started legal proceedings, saying Warsaw had breached EU law when extending the mine's life.

The country also took its case to the CJEU, and won judges' backing for a temporary order to stop Turow's operations until a final judgment.

"JUDICIAL ROBBERY"

When Warsaw rejected a halt, Prague asked for a daily penalty payment of 5 million euros to be levied.

The court on Monday agreed but set the fine much lower.

"Such a measure appears necessary in order to strengthen the effectiveness of the interim measures decided upon in the order of 21 May 2021 and to deter that member state from delaying bringing its conduct into line with that order," judges said.

Prague welcomed the penalty but said it still wanted to reach an agreement in an amicable way.

Some Polish officials strongly rejected the order.

"The CJEU demands half a million daily fines from Poland for the fact that Poland did not leave its citizens without energy and did not close the mines overnight," deputy justice minister Marcin Romanowski said on Twitter.

"It is judicial robbery and theft in broad daylight. You won't get a cent."

($1 = 0.8539 euros)

(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee in Brussels and Anna Koper in Warsaw; additional reporting by Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk in Warsaw and Jason Hovet in Prague; Writing by Jason Hovet; Editing by Mark Porter and Jan Harvey)

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