Poland’s Premier Woos Industrial Heartland in Re-Election Push

Poland’s government announced plans to rejuvenate Silesia, the coal-rich region which is the country’s industrial base, as it seeks to rebuild momentum ahead of this year’s general election that opinion poll show it will lose.

Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz offered on Tuesday to build more roads and railway links and presented plans to create a state-backed investment fund to restructure and inject capital into the region hurt by its unprofitable coal mining industry. Surveys show her ruling Civic Platform losing a parliamentary ballot due in October to the Law & Justice party, which has accused the cabinet of “ruining” mines and Poland’s industry.

“Our plan will become an engine of growth for the region and for the mining industry,” Kopacz said during a televised cabinet meeting convening in Katowice, Silesia’s biggest city.

The government’s popularity in Silesia has suffered after it proposed to shut loss-making coal mines in January. only to backtrack from the plan following miners’ protests. Law & Justice is backed by 35.5 percent of Poles, compared with 24 percent supporting Kopacz’s Civic Platform after its eight years in power, according to a survey by pollster IBRiS.

Beata Szydlo, a coal miner’s daughter from the Silesian city of Brzeszcze who is Law & Justice’s candidate for prime minister, dismissed Kopacz’s plan as “nothing new” and blamed the government for not standing up for the region’s interests by opposing European Union curbs on carbon emissions.

“The mining industry needs new investments, a new strategy and new technology,” Szydlo said on Tuesday. “Poland’s coal-based economy needs to be a priority.”

Coal Reliant

Szydlo reiterated that coal “is and will continue to be” needed to foster Poland’s growth. The EU’s biggest post-communist economy depends on the dirty fossil fuel for 90 percent of its electricity, with biggest miner Kompania Weglowa SA ranked as the country’s third-largest employer.

Poland is under pressure to reduce reliance on coal, which both Civic Platform and Law & Justice see as an integral part of the country’s energy security, as part of the EU’s plan to lower carbon emissions.

The government’s plan for Silesia included the creation of less environmentally damaging coal-gasification plant by Grupa Azoty SA, the country’s biggest chemicals producer.

Shares in state-controlled Azoty declined 1.6 percent to 80.10 zloty at 1:49 p.m. in Warsaw, heading for the biggest drop in a week after the government announced the project, set to cost as much as 4.2 billion zloty ($1.1 billion).

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