EU President Charles Michel’s green “Man on the Moon” project got into trouble in Brussels early in the morning during the launch. “Brussels, we have a problem.” Poland, one of the passengers, refused to board.
Whereas 26 European government leaders promised that Europe would become the first climate-neutral continent in the world (net no CO2 emissions) in 2050, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki demanded and received a postponement until June. It did not stop Michel from discussing an agreement. “We must be creative if we want to continue with the EU,” Michel concluded laconically after the first EU summit under his leadership. The question of whether this new decision-making method (26 minus 1) is now also being applied to other controversial topics such as migration, he left unanswered.
The Thursday climate debate was deep in the night due to resistance from Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. The latter two mainly because of fears that the European climate ambitions would make the use of nuclear energy impossible. When reassuring words came about that – the EU has no control over the energy supply of the Member States anyway – they ceased their resistance.
But not Morawiecki. In the meeting room he made a long speech about the enormous backlog that his country has on other member states. Poland draws around 80 percent of its energy from “dirty” coal-fired power stations, a legacy from the Soviet era. Banning fossil fuels too quickly, he says, leads to energy shortages and the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs. And it’s expensive. Poorer member states therefore pay more for climate plans than richer ones. “I can’t explain that at home,” said Morawiecki.
He initially asked for postponement of climate neutrality for his country, he suggested according to those involved until 2070. That idea was dismissed. Prime Minister Mark Rutte told his Polish colleague that the green switch also hurts in the Netherlands – “We have a large energy-intensive steel sector and chemical industry”. The Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa came with an emotional warning about the desertification of his country and southern Spain, about forest fires and hurricanes as a result of global warming. Morawiecki then abandoned his 2070 request and sought guarantees for EU financial assistance to pay for the greening.
The other Member States refused to hand over this blank check, after which an impasse threatened. Michel – afraid of the failure of his first EU summit – suspended the meeting and took Morawiecki for separate consultations. Michel then spoke with Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister Rutte. And then again with Morawiecki. Meanwhile, the rest of the leaders were hungry for dinner.
The Polish Prime Minister appeared not to relent, after which Michel with his “creative solution” prevented a failure: Poland shares the climate ambition, but does not yet know whether it will fulfill it. A “Belgian compromise,” concluded diplomats. A René Magritte-like Ceci is not un accord. For the outside world, the unity of the EU was saved.
Morawiecki was satisfied and said that Poland will achieve climate neutrality “at its own pace”. He awaits calculations by the European Commission at the beginning of next year about how expensive the transition will be for the various Member States and how much money is available from the EU funds.
Prime Minister Rutte said after the EU summit that he had “confidence” that Poland would support the 2050 target this summer. He also emphasized that the Netherlands will not reduce CO2 emissions faster if Poland nevertheless decides to take extra time.
Diplomats see the night summit as a harbinger of the very difficult discussions between the Member States once the elaborated climate laws are on the table. The fact is that those legislative proposals can be adopted by a majority and Polish resistance can be drowned out.