How the new gas pipeline to Poland killed mice

Denmark is gradually gaining a reputation as a country where it is better not to lay large and strategically important gas pipelines. Following Nord Stream 2, which the country’s authorities did not give permission for more than two years to lay in its exclusive economic zone in the Baltic Sea, problems overtook the Baltic Pipe project. This gas pipeline was supposed to bring 7 billion cubic meters of gas a year from the Norwegian shelf to Poland – this would theoretically allow Warsaw not to purchase Russian gas after October 2022, when the long-term contract with Gazprom expires. The project, which was announced as a means of ridding Eastern Europe of gas dependence on Russia, enjoyed the full political support of the European Commission and received European subsidies.

But mice ran across the road to the project. Danish authorities, worried about the potential harm from laying a gas pipeline for sleepyheads, tree mice and bats, withdrew the building permit on June 2 until the project operator carried out new consultations and environmental studies. According to Kommersant’s interlocutors in the industry, this may take eight months. Thus, the pipeline may not be ready by the fall of 2022, which creates the prospect for Poland of unpleasant negotiations with Gazprom on the purchase of gas, in which Warsaw will have a weaker position. “We understand that there are often other interests behind the topic of the environment,” said Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Marcin Pszidach on June 4, urging the project to be completed “in the interests of Poland and all of Europe” as soon as possible.

We, of course, do not know what kind of “other” interests Mr. Pshidach had in mind, but I would venture to suggest a hypothesis. At the end of May, the Polish authorities refused to obey the decision of the EU court to close one of the country’s largest coal mines “Turov” in Bogatyn, located on the border with the Czech Republic and Germany. The lawsuit was filed by the Czech Republic and supported by Germany: both countries are unhappy with the negative impact of the mine on the environment. And since in fact it would be extremely difficult and time-consuming to force Poland to close it through formal legal procedures within the EU, Germany could use unofficial leverage, blocking an important energy project for Poland. The mine dispute is just a special case of broader environmental divergences between Poland and its western EU neighbors. For example, Warsaw was the only country in the union that has not yet joined the plans to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

This episode is yet another confirmation that the EU is still not the monolithic structure it is trying to look like, and even the anti-Russian agenda cannot smooth out internal contradictions.

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