The Court of Justice has today upheld the emergency ban on logging in Bialowieza Forest, saying it will impose fines of at least €100,000 a day if Poland’s Environment Minister keeps ignoring the Court’s decisions. This formal warning sets a new precedent – financial consequences have never before been applied at this stage of the procedure.
Fifteen of the EU’s most senior judges rejected the Polish Minster’s arguments that the logging is essential for public safety, saying this only applies to trees near main roads and major infrastructure in the forest.
ClientEarth lawyer Agata Szafraniuk said:
“These huge fines are the Court of Justice’s response to the complete contempt with which Mr. Szyszko treats its emergency ban on logging.
“Currently, financial penalties are, unfortunately, an essential tool to ensure that the best-preserved primeval forest in Europe is protected from further harm. Trees are still being cut down every day, so the Court prescribed this measure to guarantee the full protection of this unique forest, and to avoid irreparable damage.
“This unprecedented decision of the Court of Justice has also a wider impact across Europe as it creates a practical and worthwhile instrument – financial penalties, to ensure that all member states abide by European law.”
First, Minister Szyszko justified the logging with a bark beetle outbreak, then with safety concerns. In fact, it often takes place far from public roads and uses heavy equipment that not only removes the trees, but also devastates everything around them.
Poland’s Environment Minister decided to significantly increase logging in this unique forest in March 2016. He did it regardless of the law, scientific evidence and public protests. ClientEarth, together with six other NGOs, filed a complaint to the European Commission pointing out that Szyszko’s decision breaches EU nature laws. Consequently, the Commission started an infringement procedure, which has been fast-tracked at every stage.
The latest data from Poland’s forest administration shows that between January and August this year, the logging volume topped 138,000 m3. This is about 140,000 trees, including many cut down in the oldest parts of the forest.