The next few weeks are of real importance in the Bialowieza Forest case. The Advocate General’s opinion is going to see the light of day and the judgement will follow on 17 April. In this Q&A we cover everything you need to know about our battle to save Europe’s last primeval forest.
Who is the Advocate General of the Court of Justice of the European Union?
The Advocate General is a judicial official, who analyses a case for the Judges of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) before they issue a judgment. An opinion of the Advocate General is public and available on the Court’s website.
What exactly is an opinion of the Advocate General and is it important?
The Advocate General issues an opinion after a hearing, but prior to a judgement. It reminds the Court of previous judgments in similar cases and proposes a decision to the judges.
Opinions are crucial. While they are not binding on the Court, in most circumstances they reach the same conclusion as the Court.
In the Bialowieza Forest case, the opinion of the Advocate General will be issued on the 20th February 2018.
Will actions taken by the Polish authorities or the European Commission now influence the final judgment in the case?
No. The final hearing of the case took place in December 2017 in Luxembourg. That was the last opportunity to present arguments and clarify any doubts. Since then, no action taken by any side (the Commission or Poland’s Minister of the Environment) will affect the final judgement.
What exactly is the judgement about?
The judgement will address whether or not these two decisions break EU law:
- the decision of Minister Szyszko to increase timber harvesting in the Bialowieza Forest District in March 2016; and
- the decision to cut trees even in the oldest parts of Bialowieza Forest, for the alleged reason of fighting a bark beetle infestation.
When will the Bialowieza Forest judgment be issued?
The judgement will be issued on 17 April this year.
What will happen after the judgment?
If the Court finds the decision to increase timber harvesting in Białowieża Forest breaks EU law, Minister Kowalczyk will have to reverse or suspend it. The judgement enters into force as soon as it is announced. If the state does not comply with the judgment, it can face multi million-pound penalties.
This article was updated in March 2018 to include the official judgement date.