Illegal logging in an ancient Polish forest has been blown out of proportion by the European Commission, which “spread lies” and “manipulated the facts”, according to Poland’s environment minister, who insisted on yet another hearing as part of an ongoing legal case.
Environment Minister Jan Szyszko told the additional hearing at the European Court of Justice on Tuesday (17 October) that the scale of logging in the Białowieża forest has been exaggerated by manipulated photographs and ‘fake news’ reports.
Szyszko had insisted on another opportunity to plead his case after claiming that the vice-president of the ECJ, who presided over the previous hearing, was biased.
During the latest hearing, Szysko also said that photos used by the European Commission to prove the extent of the logging had been manipulated during a cyber attack.
He insisted that the EU should not “spread lies like the Commission has. It has manipulated the facts and its data is not reliable.”
Poland has been accused of illegal logging in the Białowieża forest, one of the last remaining primaeval woodlands in Europe. The Eastern European country has reportedly continued large-scale logging at the Unesco site, disregarding a temporary ban the ECJ imposed on such activities in July.
A lawyer with green activist group ClientEarth, Agata Szafraniuk, said: “This is the first time in history that the European Court will rule on how to react to an EU country breaching interim measures, which shows it is treating this case with exceptional care.”
A Commission legal representative also accused Szyszko of changing the reason why Poland has upped its logging activities. Originally, Polish forestry authorities had insisted the felling of trees was intended to combat a bark-beetle outbreak. That justification has now been changed to one of public safety.
The court decided on Tuesday that the case will be heard by a full plenary of ECJ judges, including the president and vice-president of the court, before the end of this year. A sitting of 15 judges is a rarity in EU legal cases and the Grand Chamber only assembles when a particularly important issue is at stake.
Logging in the forest is another example of the strained relations between Brussels and Warsaw.
The Polish government’s recent proposals on a comprehensive court reform were met with strong criticism from the EU institutions and prompted the Commission to say it might consider suspending Poland’s voting rights because of basic violations of the rule of law.