It is no coincidence that Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and Slovakia are opposing the EU’s plans to fight climate change. They are all countries recently emerged from communism. Their opposition has nothing to do with the economy and everything to do with immature political systems and the kind of people who run these countries.
The political class in eastern Europe is controlled by businessmen and politicians who were, or whose parents were, socialised under communism. This curious socialisation created people with very narrow, self-centred, views of the world, paying little heed to social or environmental questions. Communism was very cruel, deliberately destroyed social fabric and civic society, and created a generation of highly individualistic people whose sole motivation was to prove that they can scramble to the top of the dung heap.
By contrast, some senior politicians in western Europe tend to have the intellectual maturity and cultural breadth to understand that climate change is a dead serious problem. Forget that for politicians in eastern Europe. Members of parliament in these countries are typically poorly-educated people of rather low calibre, and their bosses tend to come from the same grasping individualistic mould as their cronies in business.
So how do you address the concerns of eastern European countries without abandoning tough climate goals?
First, you have to call their bluff by asking them to show the calculations which demonstrate the concern about the economy. You will find that the models they use are simplistic, linear, and poorly researched and argued. That is, if they exist at all. Intellectually aggressive negotiators should be able to give short shrift to most of the East European arguments.
Second, you need expose those countries which have failed to develop any sensible energy policies. Poland may whine about being dependent on coal, but for at least two decades it has known that it needs to address the problems of its aging coal-based energy infrastructure, and has consistently failed to do anything serious about it. You only need to compare the leading Polish electricity companies with their neighbour ČEZ in the Czech Republic to see what an energy backwater Poland has become. Europe’s future generations should not become victim to the incompetence of the Poles running their power sector.
To address this Europe should offer to help Poland and others to rebuild their energy sector – supporting industrial and domestic efficiency measures, demand-side management, clean coal and CCS projects, perhaps a nuclear initiative, renewables, and so forth. This might cost a lot, but no more than a banking bail-out.
Third, we must look at who is really complaining. Is it the people of those countries or is it just the power companies and heavy industry? It is power companies and industry. Drive a wedge between the public’s interest and the narrow economic interest of certain companies through utilising the media and public education. If it turns out that some of those companies are actually controlled by west European shareholders, ensure that this is properly disclosed.
Fourth, you have to accept their one good point – all are exposed to imports from non-EU countries which do not have a cost of carbon. You need to show that you are serious about handling this through trade agreements, import carbon taxes, or export subsidies.
The people of Europe, our children and future generations, and the rest of the world should not be held hostage to the immaturity of eastern European politics.