Poland: Merely looking backward is not a way forward

Climate action

A veto is an act of desperation, but it carries weight if used wisely. The more you use it, the more meaningless it becomes. The Polish media is already speculating about the prospect of a third Polish veto, if the Low-Carbon Roadmap is on the agenda of the June Energy Council. By stubbornly rejecting the EU’s shared vision to move towards a green energy future, Poland is ultimately vetoing modernisation of its own economy and further isolating itself. Meanwhile the EU’s climate agenda remains very much alive, and is strongly supported by the other 26 Member States. This support was bolstered by the European Parliament’s endorsement of the ‘Low Carbon Roadmap’ on the 15 March. 

It didn’t come as a surprise that Poland used another veto at the last Environment Ministers meeting on Friday.

This time around it couldn’t accept the milestones for cost-effective emission reductions by 2050. In June 2011 it rejected the Council Conclusions because of the call for a 25% green house gas (GHG) emissions cuts by 2020. Currently the primary goal of the Polish government seems to be blocking the EU’s climate agenda and vetoing all climate targets, regardless of the timeline or level of ambition.

From the beginning of Poland’s membership of the EU in 2004, one of Donald Tusk’s main goals was to avoid a two-speed Europe. This rhetoric lost any real meaning last Friday when Poland went against the entire EU as 26 Member States endorsed the EU’s plan for emission reductions by 2050. It was bad news for Europe but even worse news for Poland. Failing to modernise an outmoded energy system, because of the lack of incentives for green investments is now a real prospect.

 Warsaw’s distrust in the climate debate is derived from a deeply rooted historical legacy of suspicion. Polish vetoes are reminiscent of the seventeenth century liberum veto[1], a tool allowing any attendee of Parliament to terminate a Parliamentary session in the case of no unanimous consent (which ultimately contributed to the twilight of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth). The general belief that the golden rule of foreign policy is “if you need a helping hand, it’s at the end of your arm” is evident in the current political debates. Today when discussing the challenge of climate change, politicians in Warsaw are saying that the Polish coal-based economy is under ruthless attack. The main goal of EU’s climate policy, they claim, is to create a market for the Danish and German renewable technologies and Poland is the only one bravely going against EU’s madness about reducing emissions. But this rhetoric of distrust and merely looking backward, are ill advised in a united Europe. To modernise the power sector, create attractive green jobs and enhance the country’s energy security the Polish government has to go beyond the myths standing behind their suspicion of the EU’s green future.

Contrary to what Polish officials are claiming, a recent survey from the Institute for Sustainable Development shows that Poles support more climate efforts. The number of citizens supporting renewable energy is constantly growing and majority of Poles would like the government to invest in green economic development. Recent Eurobarometer polls show almost 70% of Polish society believes that fighting climate change and using energy more efficiently can boost the economy and stimulate job growth in the EU.

What Poland needs is not another veto, but a vision of how to overcome its coal dependency. Only then can it build up a competitive and strong green economy of the future. There is enough Polish wind, enough Polish potential for energy savings and enough Polish skilled hands to make it happen.


[1] Latin “the free veto”, a parliamentary device in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth that allowed any member of the Parliament to force an immediate end to the current session by shouting “Nie pozwalam!” (“I do not allow!”).


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