By Kate Abnett
BRUSSELS, May 3 (Reuters) – Poland’s plan to extend the life of a coal mine in Turow until 2044 could mean the region will not get access to the European Union’s flagship green transition fund, the European Commission said on Monday.
The EU’s “Just Transition Fund” is a 17.5-billion euro slice of the bloc’s budget and COVID-19 recovery fund, set aside to help regions wind down fossil fuel industries and replace them with green enterprises and jobs.
The aim is to protect communities most affected as the EU overhauls its economy to become climate neutral by 2050. Poland, which employs more than half of Europe’s coal industry workforce, is in line for the biggest share of the fund.
But on Monday the European Commission said the Polish government’s decision to extend a mining concession for the Turow coal mine, located near the Czech and German borders, until 2044 could cost the region its access to the fund.
“That certainly puts at risk the use of the Just Transition Fund to support this region where, as we can see, transition is not planned from now until 2030,” Commission spokeswoman Vivian Loonela said of the Polish government’s decision, announced last week.
The Polish government could not immediately be reached for comment.
To access the fund, regions must submit plans detailing how they intend to manage mine closures and retrain workers.
Joanna Flisowska from Greenpeace Poland said it was a “no brainer” that the fund should only go to regions taking steps to wind down the economic activities causing climate change.
The Court of Justice of the EU is due to decide in the coming months if the Turow mine must close immediately, following a lawsuit filed by the Czech Republic in February. The lawsuit alleges that Warsaw had violated EU law with an earlier extension of mining at Turow until 2026.
Turow supplies coal to a nearby electricity plant. Shutting the mine and, in turn, the power plant, would damage the functioning of the Polish and European power systems and hit the region with unemployment, a Polish diplomat told Reuters.