Advocate General of the Court of Justice of the EU speaks out for Bialowieza Forest

Activists have protested against the logging in the Bialowieza forest, Poland.

Greenpeace Poland
The expansion of logging quotas in the Bialowieza Forest in Poland threatened one of Europe's oldest woodlands. However, the resignation of a minister and today's legal opinion from the Advocate General of the Court of Justice of the EU suggest the trees are safe. CATHERINE HARTE and BRENDAN MONTAGUE report

The increased logging in the Bialowieza Forest breaches EU nature laws because Polish authorities failed to adequately protect rare and precious species in this ancient forest.

Increased logging in Poland’s Bialowieza Forest has breached EU nature laws, according to a legal opinion issued today by the Advocate General of the Court of Justice of the EU.

Jan Szyszko, when minister for environment, tripled the logging limits for the Bialowieza Forest in March 2016, despite warnings from scientists all over Europe that it would be very harmful for the forest.

Environmental lawyers ClientEarth, together with six other organisations, filed a complaint to the European Commission and in July 2017 the case was brought before the Court of Justice of the EU. Szyszko has since been dismissed from the post.

Destructive policy

Agata Szafraniuk, a lawyer at ClientEarth, said: “The increased logging in the Bialowieza Forest breaches EU nature laws because Polish authorities failed to adequately protect rare and precious species in this ancient forest.

"What’s more, they even failed to assess what impact the logging could have on the unique nature of the forest, which is also required by the law. We are not surprised by this important legal opinion. That has been our stance from the beginning. From the legal point of view this case is really very simple.

“The opinion by the Advocate General proposes a settlement of the case. Opinions are not binding for the Court but the statistics show that in a vast majority of cases, the judges follow them in the final ruling."

Shameful legacy

She added: “We hope that Minister Kowalczyk, who took over from Jan Szyszko a month ago, will put an end to the destructive policy of his predecessor and grant the whole of Bialowieza Forest national park status. This is the only way to properly protect it from damaging logging for good.”

Robert Cyglicki, from Greenpeace Poland, added: “Today’s announcement has left us feeling bittersweet. Nothing can change the fact that 19km-squared of Białowieża Forest - half of which was remnant forest over 100 years old - was devastated.

“Minister Henryk Kowalczyk cannot continue to praise the activities of his predecessor. He must be severed from Jan Szyszko’s shameful legacy. The only appropriate action by the new minister would be to order a stop to all forest management and to initiate a process that would see the Białowieża Forest declared a National Park.”

The final ruling will be published in a couple of weeks.

These Authors

Catherine Harte is contributing editor of The Ecologist.

Brendan Montague is editor of The Ecologist, founder of Request Initiative and co-author of Impact of Market Forces on Addictive Substances and Behaviours: The web of influence of addictive industries (Oxford University Press)He tweets at @EcoMontague.

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