Poland’s national-level pre-selection of projects under the Commission’s Platform for Coal Regions in Transition does not seem to fit into the Partnership Principle architecture.
During the initial phase of the Platform in Poland (from the first country-level meeting on 12 October 2017 to the working group meeting in Brussels on 26-27 February 2018), two lists of projects were drafted to be supported as part of the Platform.
One list, devoted to structural change projects, was compiled by the regional government (Urząd Marszałkowski) of Silesia and included a number of funding mechanisms to support various aspects of regional development, like revitalisation, innovation, land reclamation, air quality and mobility.
The other government-sponsored list included 26 specific ‘eco-innovation’ projects.
The lists were presented by Poland at the February Platform working group meeting in Brussels and are available on the Commission’s website.
The regional-sponsored list includes a number of funds to support regional development totalling EUR 1.2 billion and is of less concern here because it names funding mechanisms and not beneficiaries.
However, the government- sponsored list devoted to clean coal and eco- innovation includes 26 projects totalling roughly EUR 620 million and names specific beneficiaries.
THE GOVERNMENTAL LIST WAS COMPILED IN AN UNTRANSPARENT WAY WITHOUT ANY PUBLIC PARTICIPATION OR CONSULTATION.
The way this list was drafted departs from the normal practice of the Partnership Principle as seen with EU funds, where public participation and inclusive consultations are required at every stage, from negotiations of the Partnership Agreement, which lays down the general orientations for spending, to the drafting of operational programmes and to the setting of criteria and selection of projects.
In the example of the Platform, this whole logic was reversed, with the pre-selection of projects preceding the participatory process normally required to change operational programmes, re-allocate funds or define selection criteria.
Moreover, the projects were pre-selected without an open and competitive procedure i.e. in a manner normally reserved for natural monopolies such as the national railway or the road building agency, even though in the present case there are no immediately evident reasons why support under the ‘eco-innovation’ branch of the Platform for Coal Regions in Transition should be effectively limited to state-owned mining companies and utilities and exclude all other categories of economic actors and industries present in Silesia. Ten of the 26 eco-innovation projects proposed in the government-sponsored list, totalling at least EUR 474 million involve the coking coal company Jastrzębska Spółka Węglowa (JSW) either on its own or with partners. The entire list of prospective beneficiaries is exclusive: apart from JSW and its subsidiaries, it includes the mining company PGG and the coal trader Węglokoks, the energy utility Tauron, the Central Mining Institute and the Institute for Chemical Processing of Coal, all with multiple projects on the list, as well as the chemical company Grupa Azoty and three universities, with single projects.
All the corporate beneficiaries are fossil-heavy and owned fully or partly by the state. Among the prospective beneficiaries there are no private entities, no SMEs and no companies whose core business concerns renewables or energy efficiency. 11 out of the 26 projects on the list concern technological improvements to fossil fuel burning, there are 6 projects that concern the utilisation of mine methane or geothermal heat from mine waters and air, and there is only one project that concerns RES development.
The projects in the government-sponsored list were apparently pre-selected during the three closed Country Team meetings of the Polish side, in which Commission and Platform staff from Brussels attended (12 October 2017 in Warsaw, 4 December 2017 in Katowice and 13 February 2018 in Katowice). Scant information is available about those meetings. The meetings seem to have involved only select participants likely designated by the government and were not publicly announced until afterwards.
There was no open invitation to participate, either for civil society or for businesses. Very little information is available on who took part in the meetings and what was discussed. There is no trace of any open call for projects, transparent criteria or a scoring mechanism for the selection.
It is unclear how the Commission is now going to proceed with financing the pre-selected projects, or indeed how the ‘reprogramming and reallocation’ is going to happen. Perhaps the projects will have to undergo some public consultation or an assessment based on transparent criteria before they are financed, but there is no clarity on this.
Moreover, there is no open and transparent mechanism to propose other projects, and access to the prospective funding under the Platform seems to be closed to businesses that have no links to the government, subregional authorities and other entities (the Commission invites all potential stakeholders to join the Platform by writing to an official mailbox, but the experience of NGOs who applied to take part in the first working group meetings shows that this is hardly a guarantee of getting equal treatment).
In this way, the Platform for Coal Regions in Transition initiative seems to have exempted a portion of EU funding from the normal partnership processes and transparency standards.