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Poland to Fight New EU Emissions Targets, Belarus-Russia Potash War Cools

Plus, Russia jails Greenpeace activists, and pride organizers vow to hold a parade in Belgrade this weekend.

by S. Adam Cardais, Ioana Caloianu, and Alexander Silady 27 September 2013

1. Warsaw opposes more ambitious EU climate change goals, leader says


Janusz Piechocinsk
Polish Deputy Prime Minister Janusz Piechocinski says Warsaw will fight Brussels' plan to set more ambitious targets to combat climate change, reflecting growing pushback in Central Europe to European Union energy policy, The Wall Street Journal reports.


"The European Commission … wants to set new climate goals for 2030," Piechocinski said 26 September. "There will be no permission for that on our part. We are willing to call for a referendum [on the issue] for the first time in Europe."

As part of ongoing climate change talks launched this month, EU lawmakers are reportedly mulling new 2030 targets that would force members to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent from 1990 levels and increase the share of energy consumption produced from renewables to 30 percent. Set in 2007, the respective 2020 targets are both 20 percent.

But Poland generates most of its electricity from coal and has long opposed tougher emissions targets. Its Belchatow lignite plant is among Europe's worst polluters, The WSJ points out.


Poland's massive Belchatow power plant has been tagged as the biggest carbon emitter in the EU. Photo by Morgre/Wikimedia Commons.

Piechocinski's comments come shortly after Prime Minister Donald Tusk said Poland will focus on developing coal power over renewable energy sources, which are considerably more expensive than electricity from fossil fuels.

Recently, several other Central European countries have bucked EU energy policy, especially regarding renewables. This month, Prague gutted state subsidies for green energy projects because a recent boom in renewables investment – solar, especially – drove up electricity bills for Czech households and businesses. Romania and Bulgaria also cut renewables subsidies this year due to rising power prices.

2. Uralkali CEO released from prison, signaling potential end to potash war

Vladislav Baumgertner
Minsk has moved Vladislav Baumgertner, chief executive of Russian potash firm Uralkali, to house arrest in an evident détente in a diplomatic row with Moscow, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Baumgertner was released from Minsk's Amerikana prison 25 September and moved to an apartment "under round-the-clock surveillance by [security agency] officers," his lawyer, Alexei Basistov, said. "We are hopeful that he will be permitted to return to Russia soon."

Baumgertner was arrested in Minsk on abuse of power charges 26 August, a month after Uralkali withdrew from a de facto joint pricing cartel, the Belarusian Potash Company, that controlled two-thirds of global supply. Uralkali said its Belarusian partner, Belaruskali, was selling potash outside the terms of their agreement.

Potash stocks plummeted on world markets as a result, threatening Belarus' weak economy and infuriating President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, The WSJ reports. Baumgertner was arrested in Minsk after being invited to meet the Belarusian prime minister to discuss Uralkali's withdrawal, prompting Moscow to immediately impose punitive trade restrictions.

His move to house arrest came ahead of a 26 September meeting between Lukashenka and Russian President Vladimir Putin during joint military exercises. Russian and Belarusian officials also discussed the fracas in meetings earlier this week.

Reuters writes that Lukashenka has said he will repatriate Baumgertner pending an ownership change at Uralkali to reaffirm strong commercial links with Russia. An investment firm owned by Russian billionaire and former presidential hopeful Mikhail Prokhorov is bidding for a stake.

3. Russia jails Greenpeace activists pending investigation

A Russian court has ordered that environmental activists and others detained in Arctic waters after a protest last week be held for two months pending an investigation, Radio Free Europe reports.

The remanded U.S. captain of the Greenpeace icebreaker Arctic Sunshine, a Russian photographer, and at least six activists were among 30 people detained on 19 September after Russian authorities stormed and then seized their ship. This came a day after two Greenpeace activists were detained after attempting to scale the offshore Prirazlomnaya oil rig to protest drilling in the environmentally sensitive Arctic.

Courts are still considering several activists' cases. While no charges have been brought against any member of the motley crew from as far afield as Brazil to Ukraine, authorities have suggested they could face a large fine and maximum 15-year prison sentence for piracy.

However, Putin has said that while the protesters broke Russian law by coming too close to the rig, they had not committed piracy, RIA Novosti notes.

Greenpeace wants to draw attention to new offshore drilling in the Arctic by energy majors like ExxonMobil, which has partnered with Russian oil giant Rosneft to explore the hydrocarbon-rich area. The group insists that Prirazlomnaya, owned by Gazprom and already operational, is ill-designed and unsafe, and that its protest this month was peaceful.

4. Belgrade marchers vow to hold pride parade this weekend

Serbian activists are determined to go ahead with a Belgrade gay pride parade on 28 September no matter what as they await a government decision on whether they will be given official permission, B92 reports.

"Everything's ready. We've done our part of the job, we have agreed all the details with the police,” organizer Goran Miletic said.

After violent clashes with anti-gay rioters in 2010, both the 2011 and 2012 parades were canceled by the authorities.

The government says it will base its decision on whether police could keep the marchers safe from violence like that of 2010. Members of the right-wing Dveri party as well as the Serbian Orthodox Church have echoed the Russian government's sentiments on gay pride, saying that a public display of gay acceptance would present “foreign and unsuitable values to minors” and threaten the birth rate, according to Reuters.

B92 quoted Prime Minister Ivica Dacic as saying that a pride parade in the capital would be “good for Serbia” because it would put his country on better terms with the EU, but that he personally would never take part.

Despite societal opposition, Serbia's gay community has had some notable achievements lately – a comedy about a gay couple planning a pride parade and the mercenary they hire to protect them was a surprise hit, and LGBT organizers inaugurated a private social center in June.


5. Threat of sanctions over EU arrest powers eases for Croatia


The European Union and Croatia have reached a compromise in a standoff over the reach of the European Arrest Warrant, according to Balkan Insight's Balkan Transitional Justice.


Croatia will speed up repeal of a controversial amendment to the warrant passed this summer that had effectively protected a communist-era secret police chief from being questioned in Germany over the 1983 murder of a Croatian businessman there.


Croatian Justice Minister Orsat Miljenic and EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding reached an agreement 25 September stipulating that Croatian lawmakers would reverse changes to the warrant by 1 January 2014, six months earlier than the country had initially said it would act, under EU pressure.


The country drew the ire of European authorities after adopting three days before its EU accession a law making crimes committed before 2002 out of the reach of the international arrest warrant, allegedly to prevent the extradition of Josip Perkovic, a former Yugoslav secret police chief. Croatia's refusal to amend the law could have triggered EU sanctions, including of more than 80 million euros ($108 million), as well as post-accession monitoring. The threat of sanctions will be completely removed only once Brussels considers the changes to the law satisfactory.


Miljenic vouched to “urgently, quickly and unconditionally harmonize its extradition law with the European arrest warrant, in the sense that the law will cover all criminal offenses, regardless of when they were perpetrated,” BIRN writes. 

S. Adam Cardais is a TOL contributing editor. Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Alexander Silady is a TOL editorial intern.
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