September 11th, 2017
Europe’s leading court today held its first hearing on Poland’s refusal to comply with an interim ban on logging in the protected Białowieża Forest.
The European Commission referred Poland to the ECJ in July 2017 for increased logging in the forest, and called on the Court to “suspend the works immediately”.
The ECJ then issued an emergency interim ban on logging due to fears that irreparable damage would be done to the forest until it could issue its final judgement on the case.
A decision on the future of the temporary ban is expected within the next few days following today’s hearing.
The Polish state began intensive logging in May 2016 in the forest, a UNESCO World Heritage site which contains some of Europe’s last primeval woodlands.
Polish authorities claim that the ECJ ban is unjustified and would result in huge environmental losses due to a bark beetle infestation.
However, Polish scientists have suggested that the logging is actually being carried out for commercial purposes.
Poland’s Minister of Environment Jan Szyszko today defended Poland’s decision to continue logging in violation of the ECJ order, the first time in EU history that an ECJ interim measure has not been respected.
Poland is also the first Member State to openly declare its intention to ignore an interim measure, an “unprecedented flouting of a direct order” according to EU Agata Szafraniuk, a lawyer with ClientEarth.
The European Commission launched its initial legal case against the Polish government in 2016 following a formal complaint from ClientEarth and other campaigning organisations.
“We hope, for the sake of the forest, that the Court will uphold the emergency logging ban and do everything to make Minister Szyszko obey the law, which is here to protect Bialowieza’s unique nature,” Ms Szafraniuk added.
A Greenpeace protest took place outside ECJ buildings during the hearing, while earlier this month, Greenpeace campaigners from across Europe gathered in the forest.
Over the last year, environmental NGOs, activists and scientists across Poland have campaigned against the logging.
Protesters have established a base in the forest where they have chained themselves to harvesters and blocked logging equipment.
In August, members of the European campaign group WeMove also joined protesters in the forest in a show of solidarity.
According to Greenpeace International, there is “unconfirmed but reliable” information that the ECJ hearing on the legality of the logging will take place this autumn.