The European Court has placed a daily fine of €500,000 on Poland to be paid to the European Commission over its failure to respect an order from 21 May to stop extraction activities at Turów open-cast lignite mine, writes Catherine Feore.
The mine is located in Poland, but is close to the Czech and German borders. It was granted a concession to operate in 1994. On 20 March 2020, the Polish climate minister granted permission for an extension to lignite mining until 2026. The Czech Republic referred the matter to the European Commission and on 17 December 2020, the Commission issued a reasoned opinion in which it criticized Poland for several breaches of EU law. In particular, the Commission considered that, by adopting a measure allowing a six-year extension without carrying out an environmental impact assessment, Poland had breached EU law.
The Czech Republic asked the court to make an interim decision, pending the final judgment of the Court, which it granted. However, since the Polish authorities failed to comply with its obligations under that order, the Czech Republic, on 7 June 2021, made an application seeking that Poland be ordered to pay a daily penalty payment of €5,000,000 to the EU budget for failure to fulfil its obligations.
Today (20 September) the court rejected an application by Poland to overturn the interim measures and ordered Poland to pay the Commission a penalty payment of €500,000 per day, one tenth of what was requested by the Czech Republic. The Court said that they were not bound by the amount proposed by the Czech Republic and thought the lower figure would be adequate to encourage Poland “to put an end to its failure to fulfil its obligations under the interim order”.
Poland claimed that the cessation of lignite mining activities in the Turów mine could cause an interruption in the distribution of heating and drinking water in the territories of Bogatynia (Poland) and Zgorzelec (Poland), which threatens the health of the inhabitants of those territories. The court found that Poland had not sufficiently substantiated that this represented a genuine risk.
Given Poland’s failure to comply with the interim order, the Court found that it had no choice but to impose a fine. The CJEU has underlined that it is very rare that a member state brings an action for failure to fulfil obligations against another member state, this is the ninth such action in the history of the Court.