Poland has violated European legislation on the protection of natural sites by ordering felling in the forest of Bialowieza, one of the last primary forests in Europe, said the the EU Court of Justice (CJEU) on Tuesday.
The Bialowieza Forest was classified as a Natura 2000 site in 2007 due to the presence of natural habitats for certain species of animals and birds. In 2016, however, the Polish Ministry of the Environment authorised forest management activities covering about half of the area.
Believing that these activities had a negative impact on the site and the species that live there, in July 2017 the Commission appealed to the CJEU.
Last November, the Court already banned Poland from cutting down trees – unless absolutely necessary to ensure public safety – while awaiting its judgment on the merits of the case. In that ruling, the CJEU threatened Poland with a fine of “at least 100,000 euros per day” if the country did not immediately stop the measures. The Polish nationalist government then announced the withdrawal of the machines from the forest and the continuation of security actions by other means.
In its final judgment delivered on Tuesday, the CJEU notes that Warsaw has, however, failed to fulfill its obligations under the Habitats and Birds Directives. According to the Court, the implementation of the ordered forest management operations would lead to the disappearance of part of the Bialowieza site.
The justifications provided by the Polish government, which claimed to carrying the felling to stop the proliferation of xylophagous insects, protect road traffic and fight against forest fires, did not convince the CJEU.
The Luxembourg-based court also found that Poland’s measures did not take into account the rules on birds to prevent deterioration in their resting and breeding grounds.
Poland has faced-off against the EU in several cases, the main one of which concerns the reform of the country’s judiciary, which the European Commission says may undermine the rule of law in the country, which has been part of the bloc since 2004.