EU Warns Polish Government Over Logging in Primeval Forest

  • European Commission sends infrigement notice to government
  • Dispute risks adding to tensions between EU and Poland

The European Union warned Poland over logging in a primeval forest, risking further political tensions between the trading bloc and the government in Warsaw.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive, in a letter of formal notice said Poland’s plan to cut down part of the Bialowieza forest, home to the European bison, breaches EU environmental rules. Polish Environment Minister Jan Szyszko said clearing 188,000 cubic meters is necessary to stop a beetle infestation.

The government backed by Poland’s right-wing Law & Justice party has drawn criticism from the EU and other international organizations for what they said was an erosion of democratic standards. The cabinet, which this week ignored a deadline to respond to a commission probe into the state of its democracy, has a month to reply to the warning over logging that could ultimately lead to a lawsuit.

“The commission is in contact with the Polish authorities to make sure that any intervention will lie within” EU rules, EU spokesman Enrico Brivio told reporters in Brussels on Thursday. “The commission will carefully assess and decide whether further action is necessary.”

Bialowieza Forest

The Bialowieza forest, which covers about 1,500 square kilometers (579 square miles) of north-eastern Poland and Belarus, is a Unesco World Heritage site and a part of it forms a national park. The Environment Ministry has said trees will be cut down only in the state-managed parts, leaving the park itself unaffected.

For Law and Justice, this is the second regulatory battle with the EU over protected areas. In 2006, when the party was first in power, the Commission started an infringement procedure against Poland for plans to build a highway through an area that’s home to rare orchids, protected birds and other animals. While Poland was taken to the EU court in that case, the next government reached a compromise with local authorities and environmental groups on an alternative route.

In April, seven environmental lobbies including ClientEarth and Greenpeace complained to the Commission about the planned logging in the Bialowieza forest.

The ministry’s actions concerning Bialowieza forest take into account the legal, environmental and security context, Joanna Jozefiak, the ministry’s head of communication team said by e-mail.

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