Open Europe Blog

This question can of course be filed under John Rentoul’s ‘Questions to which the answer is No’ category, but there is a significant chance that Poland will be the only EU member state to veto a new EU deal on climate change later today, meaning that at the very least we can expect Europe-wide condemnation and statements along the lines of Poland risking becoming permanently “isolated” right? After all, this was largely the immediate reaction in the European and UK press to David Cameron’s veto over embedding rules on budgetary discipline for eurozone members within the EU Treaties (see our response here), after he claimed such a move was not in the UK’s national interest.

We doubt it though.

Some quick background: at today’s meeting of EU environmental ministers, it will be decided whether to adopt the EU’s 2050 low-carbon roadmap which seeks to set out a series of ‘milestones’ in terms of emissions reductions up to 2050. According to the roadmap, the most cost-efficient way of moving to a low-carbon economy is to achieve a 25% reduction by 2020, a 40% reduction by 2030, and finally a 80-95% reduction by 2050 (compared with 1990 levels). Agreeing on the roadmap is a first step to set legally binding emissions targets for the years beyond 2020.

The plan is backed by the Commission, the European Parliament and many member states (including the UK). However Poland has expressed strong concerns, indeed it already vetoed the 25% target once, back in June last year. Given that over 90% of Poland’s energy is generated from coal, this position is not surprising. Polish Environment Minister Marcin Korolec wrote to his counterparts warned against going beyond the agreed 20%, arguing that:

“There is no point whatsoever in gambling with the European economy’s future, introducing policies that might put our industries in jeopardy versus our competitors”

Ultimately is possible some sort of a deal could yet be thrashed out, but as yesterday’s Gazeta Wyborcza reported, Polish Government sources have made it clear they will not hesitate to block the deal unilaterally if is feels it is against its national interest. Unsurprisingly, many other member states and EU officials have not hidden their frustration with Poland’s position.

There probably won’t be any Auf Wiedersehen Polen headlines in the press, but this episode serves as a useful reminder to those who interpret UK-EU relations as a case of the latter being in permanent isolation. The truth is, as ever, far more complex.

Various EU member states maintain a special interest over economic sectors, industries and/or EU policy areas where they feel these are vital to their wider national interest. For example, the French have a dominant position in agriculture, the Spanish in fishing, the Germans in car manufacture and the UK in financial services, while Poland’s equivalent, naturally, is energy and environmental legislation.

Rather than trading in hyperboles, we should seek to establish a practical and intellectually consistent model for European cooperation, which can comfortably harbour such diverging interests.

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