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Polish report
by Euro Reporter
2013-11-16 10:51:29
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Black treasure in Poland clouds UN warming negotiations

A few weeks after it finishes hosting United Nations talks on limiting fossil-fuel emissions, Poland may decide to double the size of one of its biggest coal-burning power plants. Prime Minister Donald Tusk in June revived a $3.8 billion plan to expand the Opole electricity plant to guarantee security of power supplies, as it uses domestically mined coal. Next month, a final decision on the project is to be made by a government utility that owns Opole. The facility, along with Poland’s dependence on coal to produce 87 percent of its electricity, raises questions about the nation’s stewardship of the annual UN global warming talks under way in Warsaw. As host, Poland is responsible for helping craft the final agreement. Environmental groups are concerned it may be weak because of the nation’s reliance on coal, the most polluting of major energy sources worldwide. “The Polish government support for coal will not help to convince poor countries that it is committed” to advance the fight against global warming, said Wendel Trio, EU director at Climate Action Network, a pressure group attending the meeting.

The government doesn’t see any inconsistency between its own policies and hosting the UN talks.  “You can’t shift from fossil fuels to renewable overnight,” Poland’s Deputy Environment Minister Beata Jaczewska said in an interview. “We need to replace old plants and we do that with climate in mind: new power units will emit much less carbon dioxide.”  Erased from the map for more than a century when its territory was divided between Russia, Prussia and Austria in the late 1700s, Poland puts a big emphasis on its energy security as an essential safeguard for its sovereignty. Russia supplies most of its natural gas, and Polish politicians often speak of coal as a “black treasure” to be protected.

“As the spotlight comes here, there will be pressure on the Polish government to demonstrate how it will be a leader on climate change while protecting its energy security,” said Dirk Forrister, the president of the International Emissions Trading Association. “Markets can help make the link from the coal legacy to the clean energy future.”  Poland sits atop Europe’s largest reserve of coal and is the European Union’s most-dependent country on the fuel. It has sought to block European action to unilaterally step up emissions reductions and unsuccessfully opposed an EU measure that would help push up the price of carbon offsets. Ministers talk about balancing climate protection with the need to create jobs.  “We treat Poland’s coal reserves as an asset and a force for stability in energy supplies,” Deputy Prime Minister Janusz Piechocinski said in a speech to parliament in Warsaw on Nov. 7. “Our energy security now and for many years to come will be based on coal. The reindustrialization of Europe should be just as important a goal as emission reduction.”


Poland 'regrets' Independence Day violence at Russian Embassy

Poland has expressed "deep regret" after rioters attacked Russia's embassy in Warsaw during Independence Day celebrations on November 11. The public holiday marks Poland's declaration of independence in 1918 after World War I, following more than 120 years of rule by Russia, Prussia and Austria. It fell under Soviet control after World War II until the Communist government was forced out 1989. Warsaw police said participants in a nationalist "Independence March" set alight a guard station at the embassy and tried to storm its gates.

Marchers threw stones and fireworks at police trying to restore calm in the city, and 12 officers needed hospital treatment, police said. A total of 72 people were arrested in connection with the unrest, among them three suspected of involvement in the embassy incident. Russia said its embassy had been attacked by "hooligans" who had pelted the mission with "flares, bottles and stones." In a statement, it accused Polish authorities of allowing the march to take place without adequate security. In posts on Twitter, Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the Kremlin had summoned the Polish ambassador over the riots and given him a protest note saying the Vienna convention had been violated, after the Russian Embassy in Warsaw "had been blocked for hours."

Warsaw police earlier said they had deployed 3,000 officers for Independence Day. Poland's Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed "deep regret over the violent behaviour and incidents that occurred near the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Warsaw." It blamed the incident on Independence March participants, including the All-Polish Youth and the National Radical Camp. "Such behaviour directed at a diplomatic mission should be strongly condemned and is incompatible with 11 November Independence Day celebrations," it said in a statement.


Poland, long an economic success story, losing momentum

Michal Ruminski was 6 when his father took him through a local supermarket here. The store shelves were empty, except for some bottles of vinegar, but that was precisely the point. His father wanted the young boy never to forget the deprivations of living in a backward communist state. Today, streets once patrolled by soldiers and armoured vehicles now teem with trendy cafes and tony boutiques, not to mention grocery stores filled to bursting. And Ruminski, now 39, as managing partner of a venture capital firm, can provide his wife and his own 6-year-old son all the comforts of life. Their family vacations have included Africa, Turkey and the Caribbean islands. "We can afford to buy him anything," Ruminski said recently upon returning from a business trip to Chicago, home to the largest Polish diaspora. More than three decades have passed since a strike at a Gdansk shipyard touched off a regional revolution, leading to 18 months of martial law in Poland and setting the stage for the eventual collapse of communism.

With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Poland and its neighbouring Soviet bloc states underwent a historic shift, embracing democracy and a market-based economy. Since then, Central Europe has been transformed by those political and economic reforms. And no former Soviet bloc nation has shined as brightly as Poland. Poland's economy typically grew 4% to 5% a year. Even in the midst of the worldwide recession in 2009, the nation pushed ahead with growth of nearly 2%. Now, however, Poland's economy, like that of its neighbours, has slowed. It faces many of the same problems bedevilling Western Europe and the United States — chronically high unemployment, aging populations and a sense of losing its way on the road to greater prosperity. The Polish government is considering an overhaul of the nation's educational system, moving away from a U.S.-style focus on general studies to more of a German model emphasizing apprenticeships and vocational programs. And Poland is making efforts, with European Union support, to modernize a transportation network that hasn't been upgraded since its days as a Soviet state. Ryszard Petru, an energetic, widely known economist here, ruefully talks about his frequent trips to Wroclaw, a major industrial and cultural hub about 225 miles from Warsaw. "It takes five hours or longer by train and car; should be three hours," he said, speaking in fluent English. Though it's expensive, Petru said, he now has to resort to flying.

Whether Poland can keep up its success matters to the U.S., and not just because Americans like the imported Polish hams. Long a key NATO member, Poland has been one of only a few allies that over the years has met or come close to the target of military spending of 2% of its overall economy. Given its location bordering politically volatile neighbours in Eastern Europe, Poland's stable democratic government plays an influential role in less-developed countries such as Ukraine and Belarus. Poland's importance has increased as it has grown to become, by some measures, the sixth-largest economy in Europe, ahead of Belgium and Austria. In a visit to Warsaw last week, Secretary of State John F. Kerry compared Poland's rapid rise to the economic rebirth of South Korea. He said he was looking to Poland to help the U.S. and the EU forge a trade pact, something that both sides said could sharply increase the flow of goods and investment. "The impact of Poland is really felt now throughout the transatlantic community," Kerry said at a news conference with Polish Foreign Minister RadosBaw Sikorski.

Yet to some extent, Warsaw has drifted from the U.S. as its centre of gravity has shifted more toward Western Europe and the EU, which it joined in 2004. Although Poland has yet to adopt the euro — which turned out to be a blessing in disguise as control over its currency helped the country during the recession — Poland counts on the EU for billions of dollars in development assistance. And more than ever, Warsaw takes its political cues from Brussels and Berlin rather than from Washington. The shift in Poland's orientation partly reflects a series of what many Poles have viewed as snubs by Washington, including weaker-than-sought defences in Poland along the Russian border and as yet no visa waiver for Poles who want to visit the U.S. for tourism or business. Then there are the economic relationships. Although U.S.-Polish trade has quadrupled in the last decade and some of the biggest American names have invested here — Goodyear, IBM, Google and Citibank — these commercial links pale next to Poland's growing interdependence with Europe, particularly powerhouse Germany.


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