PARIS (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron has annoyed Poland and irritated France’s climate activists by urging them to move their protests from Paris to Poland, a European Union nation that is heavily dependent on coal.
Poland, which relies on coal for some 80% of its energy, is treading cautiously on cutting coal. The country has a long tradition of coal mining, a major employer that offers tens of thousands of jobs in the southern Silesia region. The plan is to eliminate coal by 2050. Poland also needs to develop more renewable energy sources.
Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Szymon Szynkowski vel Sek said Monday that Macron “is aware” that his country was trying hard to reduce carbon emissions. He hoped that “in this area as well as in other areas, he will refrain from this kind of lecturing which, in his case, has become tiring.”
Later Monday at the United Nations, Macron defended his comments. “I’m not stigmatizing anyone. But I want to convince our Polish friends that it’s good for them to move on this,” he told a news conference.
The spat began with Macron’s comments on a flight to the United Nations on Sunday, when he said Poland had blocked his efforts to make the EU commit to carbon neutrality in 2050, along with the Czech Republic, Hungary and Estonia.
“Marching every Friday to say that the planet is burning, that’s nice, but that is not the problem,” Macron told reporters, adding people should “go protest in Poland! Help me move those I cannot push forward.”
Macron also suggested that activists do “big operations to clean rivers or Corsica beaches” instead of protesting.
Poland’s Minister for European Affairs Konrad Szymanski responded that his country was serious about climate issues, but wanted clear rules on burden sharing in the EU.
Macron’s comments also prompted some indignation at home.
Far-left political leader Jean-Luc Melenchon tweeted that “the king of disdain has spoken.”
Macron presents himself internationally as a champion of environment issues, but climate activists claim he has failed to take enough concrete measures at home to fight climate change.
Scislowska reported from Warsaw, Poland. Jennifer Peltz contributed from the United Nations.