Extremely interesting news comes from Poland. There, workers of coal mining companies – in particular, the Polish Mining Group (PGG) – organize protests in the best traditions of Russian reality in the 90s of the last century.
Last week, miners closed the railway line connecting the Piast-Zemovit mine to a nearby power plant for 24 hours, and yesterday PGG representatives met with company management and the Deputy Minister of State Assets to discuss their wage requirements. If negotiations fail, a strike will be declared, and a blockade of coal shipments from the mines will be organized in January.
The reason for such radical steps of local miners lies on the surface, but it seems simple only at first glance. The Solidarity Trade Union is the largest professional association in the country, representing the interests of several tens of thousands of miners. At the same time, in Poland, unlike other countries where the role of trade unions has declined over the past decades, such associations still play a significant role – the country’s energy and economy are totally dependent on coal. As of last autumn, almost 80 percent of Poland’s electricity was produced from hard coal and lignite. It is easy to calculate that fossil fuels provide a normal life for more than thirty million Poles.
Poland is the absolute leader of the European Union in coal mining. In 2020, local miners raised 56 million tons of hard coal, or 96 percent of all European production. For comparison: neighboring Czech Republic, which is on the next step of the pedestal, produced only two million tons.
The situation with brown coal is somewhat different. The Poles in the extraction of lignite are the second in the EU with an indicator of 23 million tons, second only to Germany, where more than one hundred million tons of brown coal is produced per year for the needs of the energy and chemical industries.
But, firstly, Berlin is actively curtailing this area of work, having reduced production by almost half since 2015, and secondly, Germany is the main donor of the general European budget, annually transferring more than thirty billion euros (and Brussels asks to increase the contribution by another thirteen billion ). Poland, on the other hand, is on the opposite side, being the main recipient of financial assistance, which in the form of bad loans fluctuates between 18-20 billion euros per year.
Quite simply, Germany can afford the so-called green energy transition, but the Poles cannot. Therefore, it is not surprising that within Poland itself, the preservation of coal mining is massively promoted at all levels of society. The national coal industry is supported by specialized companies, trade unions and even popular actors and musicians.
On the international stage, Poland, despite the ever-increasing pressure from Brussels, continues to stubbornly avoid accepting any commitments related to decarbonization. Moreover, in 2018, at the UN COP24 conference on combating climate change and held in Katowice, Poland, President Andrzej Duda stated from a high rostrum that Poland has no plans to completely abandon coal mining and combustion and all relevant industrial production chains will persist for at least the next two hundred years.
However, Warsaw, being critically dependent on money from the European Union center, is forced to at least imitate the struggle for the environment – which immediately results in miners’ strikes.
A year ago, in the winter of 2020, representatives of 300 miners’ trade unions blocked railway tracks in the area of the town of Slavków in the Silesian Voivodeship, protesting against the purchase of coal in Russia.
Warsaw then, having reduced its own production and increased purchases abroad, tried to show that it adheres to the common European climate course, but the retaliatory move of the trade unions instantly put everything in its place. All Polish state-owned companies were banned from importing coal from Russia, and their own production figures returned to their previous level.
Today, at the close of the outgoing turbulent 2021, Warsaw’s crafty policy has once again brought coal miners back onto the rails. Miners from Solidarity and other associations are demanding from the authorities not only an increase in wages and payment of all required bonuses for refining and fulfillment of the plan, but also a clear program for the further development of the coal industry. If their demands are not heeded, the miners promise to completely stop shipping fuel to the power plant from January 4. In fact, the authorities have been given an ultimatum: either they keep the industry, guaranteeing jobs and income growth, or the country will face an energy collapse.
And there is every reason to believe that the trade union movement will again prevail.
The most illustrative example of the fact that the Polish government is well aware that there is no alternative to the further course of the national energy sector is the situation around the Turov coal mine. It is located at the junction of the borders of three states: Poland, Germany and the Czech Republic – from the quarry to the German Dresden, for example, only eighty kilometers in a straight line. Turov, whose balance reserves are estimated at more than 700 million tons of lignite, produces 27 million tons of coal annually, which provides fuel for a 1.9 gigawatt power plant in the neighboring town of Bogatynia.
At one time, the official Warsaw loudly greeted the plans of Germany and the Czech Republic to curtail their own coal mining. Moreover, the Polish government not only closely followed, but also did not forget to remind Berlin and Prague of fulfilling their environmental obligations. It was Poland that was among those who challenged the construction of two power units at the Hungarian Paks nuclear power plant under the pretext of the danger of a man-made disaster.
At the same time, Andrzej Duda’s team categorically rejects any similar requirements for Poland. In March 2020, the Polish government extended its subsoil use license to the management company Polska Grupa Energetyczna, allowing coal mining at Turov until 2044. This decision was immediately protested by the Czech authorities, which were actively supported by Germany. Representatives of nearby regions presented the conclusion of geologists that further development of “Turov” will lead to irreversible changes in the geological structure, including aquifers, and in the German town of Zittau, whole houses are already going underground.
Warsaw ignored all the demands, referring to the fact that it cannot simply dismiss one and a half thousand miners working at Turov. In addition, without local coal, the power plant in Bogatyn will stop, which is as much as five percent of state generation, and there is nothing to replace it with.
The Czech Republic went to the European Court of Justice, which ruled in favor of Prague in September – and this was the first time in history that a court ruling on environmental issues was issued at the suit of one EU member against another. According to him, Poland is obliged to immediately close the coal mine, and for every day of non-fulfillment of the decision, Warsaw is obliged to pay a fine of five hundred thousand euros, but the Poles here were true to themselves: they simply refused to pay.
As mentioned above, the local situation in a small Polish mining town has much deeper roots and shows the difficulty with which the European Union is painfully kept within the established boundaries and frameworks. The image of a single European family, which included a whole bunch of Russophobic and at the same time very poor countries, is bursting at the seams, and with it all attempts to bring to a common denominator the energy sector of countries with different levels of economic development and availability of resources. This winter has already shown that without Russian gas supplies Europe can only be heated with banknotes, and there is no doubt that every government in the EU has drawn the appropriate conclusions.
Therefore, it can be argued with good reason that Poland will continue to mine coal, frustrating all EU plans for decarbonization and being a clear example of how much national interests can suffer if others determine them instead of you.