• Looking for good examples of cross-border cooperation between EU countries? Poland has shown how this should not be done.

    Odra is Poland’s second-largest river, and runs along a section of the Polish-German border. Part of its basin is also on the German side. A shared river means common problems and challenges: protection of the environment, defence against floods, the maintenance of bridges, and the development of tourism.

    Besides major floods (the biggest in Poland took place in 1997), nothing happened around the Odra of interest to journalists in the national media, until the dry summer of 2022. Photos of thousands of dead fish flowing down the Odra went viral through Europe. A major river in Poland haddied.

    Finally, the poisoned wave reached Germany. If the Polish had informed the Germans of the coming environmental disaster, they would have had time to prepare. They would have cut off the rivers and canals flowing into the Odra, and mobilised their emergency services.

    Nobody from Poland called their neighbours or even sent an email. Instead, allegations by national-conservative activists appeared, arguing that the Germans had poisoned the Odra, and were trying to shift the blame on the Poles.

    These accusations sounded surreal; it would mean the poison would have had to flow upstream, because the first dead fish were spotted 200 km from the German border, deep into Polish territory, and closer to the source.

    The poisoning of the Odra may be repeated this summer. The river is still salted, the water level will most likely drop due to hot weather and climate change. Poland will face legislative elections and the anti-German narrative is important to the national-conservative ruling PiS party.

    Will that again be the reason, why nobody from Warsaw will message Berlin?

    While Western Europe talks renewable energy, Poland is scrambling for coal.

    Coal is Poland’s primary energy resource, used not only to produce electricity but burned by thousands of households to keep the cold at bay. Supply had never been a problem. Until now.  

    The Law and Justice (PiS) government treated coal almost as a fetish, with coal miners enjoying some of the most generous state support in the country. To please the mining lobby, the government crippled the development of wind farms, while calls from environmentalists for Poland to heed the warning signs of climate change were dismissed by PiS politicians as leftist propaganda. Studies showing that air pollution is behind the deaths of thousands of Poles every year were ignored. 

    Poland has enough coal for 200 years, according to President Andrzej Duda. But in fact, while kowtowing to the mining lobby, the government quietly closed many mines, as imports from Russia and Russian-occupied Donbass – in defiance of an EU embargo – were more profitable.

    On April 14, some six weeks after Russia invaded Ukraine, Poland imposed an embargo on Russian coal imports. Then the trouble started.

    Once-full coal depots emptied. Prices shot up. In June, the government assured the public there was no need to panic-buy; the price would come down.

    The exact opposite has happened. PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński is now telling Poles to buy less and to wait patiently for fresh supplies. The government has ordered fuel from South America, but it’s unclear if it will arrive in time. There are also question marks over the quality of imported coal.

    Europe is in for a harsh winter. Poland, in particular. In November 2021, the US warned Warsaw that a Russian invasion was imminent. The government had more than four months to prepare and to confront the prospect of coal  shortages. What did it do?