Commission takes Poland to court to stop logging in Białowieża

Logs piled in the Białowieża forest, marked with the 'I was here' inscriptions, left by Greenpeace activists to draw attention to the logging problem. [Marcin Onufryjuk/Greenpeace Poland/Flickr]

The European Commission has told Poland to stop large-scale logging in one of Europe’s last primaeval forests and has sought a court order to make the country “suspend the works immediately”.

Białowieża Forest,  a world heritage site straddling Poland’s eastern border with Belarus, is one of the last and largest remaining areas of the primaeval forest that once covered much of the continent.

UNESCO urged Poland last week to stop the massive logging operations in Białowieża, which started in May last year, when the government said it had authorised them to protect against beetles and reduce the risk of forest fires.

UNESCO urges Poland to stop logging ancient forest

UNESCO on Wednesday (5 July) “strongly” urged Poland to stop logging the older parts of the ancient Białowieża forest, a world heritage site that includes some of Europe’s last primeval woodland.

 

“As logging operations have started on a significant scale, the Commission is also requesting the Court for interim measures compelling Poland to suspend the works immediately,” the EU executive said in a statement on Thursday (13 July).

Białowieża boasts unique plant and animal life, including the continent’s largest mammal, the European bison.

“For some of these species, the Bialowieza Forest is the most important or the last remaining site in Poland,” the Commission said.

The confrontation over Bialowieza Forest is the latest clash between Brussels and Warsaw’s eurosceptic government.

The Commission started infringement proceedings against Warsaw in June, over its refusal to take in asylum seekers who come ashore in Italy and Greece. It is also demanding the Polish government change legislation which Brussels says harms democratic institutions.

Background

According to EU law (article 279), the Court of Justice can prescribe interim measures to require a Member State to hold back from activities causing serious and irreparable damage before a judgement is given. The Commission considers that the increased logging in the Białowieża Forest requires the adoption of interim measures, which are granted by the Court only in exceptionally urgent and serious cases.

The Habitats Directive (Council Directive 92/43/EEC) requires the establishment of the Natura 2000 network which made of Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), and Special Protection Areas for birds (SPAs). Each Member State identifies and proposes sites that are important for the conservation of species and habitats listed in the Habitats Directive occurring naturally in their territory.

The Birds Directive (Directive 2009/147/EC) creates a comprehensive scheme of protection for all wild bird species naturally occurring in the EU.