WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Some 2,000 Polish coal miners traveled to Luxembourg to stage a noisy protest Friday against a decision by the European Union's top court to shut down a major brown coal mine in Poland and to fine the country for flouting the ruling.
Clad in yellow vests emblazoned with “Hands off Turow,” blowing horns and waving white-and-red Solidarity trade union flags, the protesters shouted in front of the EU's Court of Justice that its rulings were unjustified and threatened Poland’s energy security. To stress the importance of the occasion, they sang the national anthem.
“If they want to shut us down, we will shut down the EU court,” said Wojciech Ilnicki, head of Solidarity at the mine.
Brown coal, or lignite, is a major source of pollutant greenhouse gases when burnt, and is still used in Poland to fuel some power plants.
The demonstrators chanted “We will not give Turow away" and left a protest letter at the court before marching to the Czech Embassy to protest Prague's role in the rulings.
“Closing the mine would mean a big shortage of energy and a cataclysm in Poland's energy system,” Jaroslaw Grzesik, head of the Solidarity union's branch for mining, told The Associated Press.
In May, the court ordered the open-cast Turow mine closed following complaints by the Czech Republic that the mine's operations negatively impacted nearby Czech villages, draining water from the area.
Poland has ignored the injunction, saying that Turow and an adjacent power plant generate some 7% of the nation's energy and light up millions of households. Warsaw also argues that Prague finds no problem with a number of other large lignite mines that operate in the same area on the Czech side of the border and in nearby Germany.
Last month, the court ordered that Poland pay a fine of 500,000 euros ($586,000) for each day it ignores its decision.
Talks with the Czech government have so far brought no solution, despite Warsaw saying it has made generous offers to reach a compromise. Poland’s trade union leaders say Prague is defending the interests of its own mines in the region.
Poland is among the most coal-dependent nations in the EU, and among the slowest in reducing that dependency. Despite development of renewable energy sources, and the rising popularity of wind and solar power, coal — mostly black coal —still accounts for nearly 70% of the country’s energy mix in 2020.