Coal threatens Poland’s image as European role-model – by Marcin Goettig (Reuters U.S. – October 1, 2015)

WARSAW, Oct 1 (Reuters) – Coal mining has taken centre stage in the campaign for this month’s parliamentary election in Poland, an outsize political role that threatens the country’s hard-won economic growth and reputation in Europe.

Once a pillar of the communist-era economy, coal mines escaped the “shock therapy” that helped turn Poland into one of the European Union’s most resilient economies and a role-model for the rest of the bloc in investors’ eyes.

Successive governments have shrunk the sector, but kept it in state hands, conscious of public support for the miners, whose predecessors lost lives opposing martial law in 1981 and helped overthrow communism.

The mines have lost more than $850 million since the start of 2014 as coal prices slipped to decade lows, and efforts to prop them up have brought Poland into conflict with the European Union on both competition and environmental grounds.

The bloc wants to cut carbon dioxide emissions by at least 80 percent by 2050, and the highly polluting Polish hard coal sector will come under further scrutiny with the approach of talks on a global climate deal in late November.

The likely winners of the Oct. 25 election say they will fight harder to stop environmental curbs and protect the 96,000 remaining mining jobs, just over half the total in 2001.

It is a policy likely to transfer any burden from loss-making mines to the budget, state-owned utilities or consumers.

Even the more reform-minded current government has dodged thorough restructuring, fearing miners’ strikes would cost them votes.

The total lost by the mines since the start of 2014 is half of what all Polish businesses invested in research and development in 2013 and some analysts say the country is squandering its reputation as well as its money.

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