Polish, Czech governments sign deal on lignite mine

FILE - Smoke rises from chimneys of Turow power plant located by the Turow lignite coal mine near the town of Bogatynia, Poland, Jan. 15, 2022. Polands state news agency PAP said Thursday, Feb. 3 its sources say that the government has approved a draft deal with the Czech Republic to end months of stalemate over a Polish lignite mine that Prague says is harmful to the border area environment. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek, file) (Petr David Josek, Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

WARSAW – The prime ministers of Poland and the Czech Republic said on Thursday they have signed an agreement settling a long-running dispute over a lignite mine on the border of the two countries.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said the agreement means that Poland’s Turow open-pit mine and the adjacent Turow power plant, which is fueled by the mine, will continue to operate without obstacles.

Last year the Czech Republic took the dispute to the European Court of Justice, arguing that Poland had ignored its protests and the mine was draining water from Czech villages, causing excessive noise and causing other environmental harm.

The European Court of Justice ordered Poland to close the colliery pending its ruling, and in September imposed a fine of 500,000 euros for each day the mine continues to operate. Poland refused to pay the fine and said it could not close the mine, which supplies a power plant that generates almost 9% of the nation’s energy. The fine has grown to over 68 million euros.

Morawiecki and Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala, speaking at a joint news conference in Prague on Thursday, said the agreement after months of talks was a “success” that allows the neighbors to return to good relations.

“We have very hard negotiations behind us,” Fiala said. “Very long negotiations with a successful result.”

Under the agreement, Poland is to pay the Czech Republic 45 million euros compensation, 10 million of which will go to environmental projects in the mine’s neighborhood. Under supervision from the European court, both sides will monitor the proper functioning of a deep barrier that Poland is building in the area to prevent water drainage on the Czech side. Poland is to build an earth wall to stop the noise and dirt spreading.

The European Commission said on Thursday that the daily penalties will continue to accrue until the Czech Republic withdraws the case. Spokesman Adalbert Jahnz added that “any penalties that are due up until that date would remain due.”

The EU’s executive said it has not received any money from Poland despite sending four calls for payment.

On Thursday, a European Court of Justice official, the advocate general, said that Poland infringed European Union law with a decision to grant the Turow mine a six-year license extension without carrying out an environmental impact study.

The opinion was issued as part of the court's procedure ahead of a verdict, which had been expected later this year.

Morawiecki said he hopes that very soon, maybe even on Thursday, Prague will withdraw the case from the European Court of Justice and the issue will be “closed” for good.

Fiala said the case will be withdrawn as soon as Poland pays the compensation money.

The EU earlier this month started the process to deduct millions of euros from payments to Poland in order to cover fines imposed on Warsaw for ignoring the court injunction. The first payment amounts to 15 million euros ($17 million) plus 30,000 euros in interest.

Morawiecki said he will contest the fines.

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Petrequin reported from Brussels. Karel Janicek in Prague contributed.