European Interest

EU top court rules against Poland over logging in ancient forest

A European bison family in Białowieża forest, Poland.

Poland broke environmental laws with large-scale logging in the ancient Bialowieza forest, the European Union’s highest court ruled on April 17.

In a final ruling in Luxembourg, judge Marek Safjan of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) said the logging in Bialowieza, a World Heritage site and home to the rare European bison, had endangered many birds and insects.

As reported by the Reuters news agency, Poland ignored environmentalists’ protests and an ECJ order last July to stop logging immediately, further fuelling concerns that it was backpedalling on democratic standards under the nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party.

Warsaw said earlier this year it had stopped the logging, part of a broader campaign to improve ties with the EU after two years of bitter feuds – including on judicial independence and migration – since PiS won power in 2015.

Environment minister Jan Szyszko, who was responsible for the increased logging quotas, has since been dismissed, and the ministry said on April 17 that it would respect the ruling.

“Poland will observe the ruling,” the current Environment Minister Henryk Kowalczyk said in a statement.

In 2016, Poland had tripled logging quotas and said spruce and pine trees that were more than 100 years old had to be felled because of a beetle infestation. The ECJ said that was not justified.

In a separate report, Bloomberg noted that Poland, facing the threat of unprecedented EU sanctions and a weaker negotiating position for funds from the bloc’s next multi-year budget, has in past months sought rapprochement with Brussels.

Poland risks a fine of at least €4.3m if it doesn’t reverse decisions on logging.

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