Poland is given two weeks to end its destruction of the Unesco-protected forest in a landmark ruling by the European court of justice
November 21, 2017 — Poland has been given two weeks to stop illegal deforestation in the Unesco-protected Białowieża forest or face fines of at least €100,000 a day.
In a precedent-setting ruling that will echo across the EU, the European court of justice ordered Poland to show it was acting lawfully in the ancient woodland, or face a €36.5m (£32m) annual penalty.
Agata Szafraniuk, a lawyer for the green law firm ClientEarth, said that the court was acting after Poland’s environment minister, Jan Szyszko, showed “complete contempt” for an earlier emergency ban on logging in the ancient woodland.
“Financial penalties are, unfortunately, an essential tool to ensure that the best-preserved primeval forest in Europe is protected from further harm,” she said. “Trees are still being cut down every day, so the court prescribed this measure to guarantee the full protection of this unique forest, and to avoid irreparable damage.”
The court move will ratchet up pressure on Poland, which is already facing a suspension of its EU Council voting rights over a clampdown on the country’s independent press and judiciary.
Women’s groups have also been targeted for police raids, and rights to protest have been curtailed, adding to concerns about the rule of law in the east European country.
Donald Tusk, the EU Council president, condemned Poland’s nationalist-right Law and Justice party government on Sunday, suggesting it was following the “Kremlin’s plan”.
The Polish government maintains that it always behaves lawfully and that logging in Białowieża is necessary to staunch a spruce bark beetle outbreak.
“In the western media, everything is based on disinformation,” a Polish government spokesman told the Guardian. “We are doing everything right by law. We are using EU law. We are using Polish law, and we are doing nothing against decisions made by the European court of justice.”
Greenpeace says that it has logged photographic evidence of violations to the court’s “public safety” condition for logging in 16 out of 30 areas of Białowieża surveyed .
Szyszko though, has previously accused the EU of “spreading lies” by using photos of extensive logging in Białowieża that he claimed were “manipulated” in a cyber-attack.
While the EU’s case on illegal logging was “without any arguments, ours are based on facts and documents,” the Polish official said. “Białowieża is not the last primeval forest, because it was made by local people, and we have facts and books that show that people were there from the beginning.”