Daily briefing

The EU and Poland wrangle over rights and wrongs

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Polish protesters back the independence of the judiciary. Source: AP

Poland celebrates its 100th birthday this year, and in honor of this milestone, we have some good news and some bad news, which is actually sort of good.

Poland is the first of the former Soviet bloc countries to be ranked a developed economy in a FTSE listing. That gave a fillip to the Warsaw stock exchange yesterday as it drew interest to the country’s companies.

The less obviously good news is that the European Commission will refer Poland to the EU Court of Justice. Brussels fears that a new law lowering the age of supreme court justices could threaten that body’s independence – by dropping the maximum age to 65 from 70, 27 of its current 72 judges would be forced to retire. And the ruling Law and Justice party would appoint their replacements. The EC’s announcement went down like a lead balloon with Jaroslaw Kaczynski, head of the socially conservative, euro-skeptic Law and Justice party. “The Polish court should always take the side of the Pole,” he said. Judges whose verdicts he dislikes are “oikophobes” or haters of their own country. Tell that to the Polish people of Berlin, who are busy forming an alternative political party and watching anxiously from across the border.

Speaking of lead balloons, Berlin is hemming and hawing over how to improve Germany’s air quality. It’s at Brussels’ behest and there are also NGOs suing cities for pollution levels beyond the legal limits. Carmakers are in a bind over millions of older diesel cars whose emissions are too high. Companies fear cities will ban those models and carmakers are little help – Daimler, VW and BMW are refusing to retrofit the cars – that could cost billions. The pressure is on: Merkel promised a solution by the end of September. Plus there are elections ahead in Hesse and Bavaria next month.

So plans are wafting around, starting with a Green Party bill up for debate on Thursday in the Bundestag. The proposal calls for retrofits, tax incentives for e-cars, and parking spaces for bikes. Nice, but it won’t pass. We’re more likely to see a “swap indemnity”, as dreamed up by the transport minister. Carmakers retrofit newer cars and incentivize customers to trade in older ones. Companies would have to cover the difference in price – ouch, pricey – but that’s still preferable to bans.

Is this the same Germany so famed abroad for its transition to clean energy, you may wonder? Yes, though that shade of green is colored by the car industry, a jobs motor and money maker.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Green Party wants to expand the constitution to include environmental protection. According to reports in German media today, lawmakers will propose anchoring the exit from nuclear in Germany’s constitution, along with taxing carbon emissions.

Out of doors, meanwhile, the fight rages on between activists and RWE, the power company, over the future of Hambach Forest, slated for destruction to make way for a strip coalmine. Police temporarily halted hauling activists out of the forest after the death of a journalist who fell from a bridge between treehouses. A cyberattack on RWE today may be the latest front in the battle.

Tell that to the oaks and the beeches, and the woodpeckers, bats and goshawks for whom the ancient woodland is home. Their fate hangs in the balance.

In Iraq, meanwhile, Siemens is courting Baghdad for a record contract (double-digit billions) to rebuild the country’s power grid. Now, GE is muscling in on the scene, eager for a piece of the action. Observers say the Germans are more likely to win: They’re popular there. Americans, meanwhile, can be seen as either bosom buddies or deadly enemies.

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