Polish logging in ancient forest breaches EU law

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Protesters hold a sign reading "stop logging Bialowieza forest" while taking part in a protest against the cutting of trees in the Bialowieza Forest in Stara Bialowieza, Poland, on August 13, 2017. The European Commission asked the European Court of Justice to accelerate the case against Poland on logging in the ancient Bialowieza Forest. / AFP PHOTO / JANEK SKARZYNSKI (Photo credit should read JANEK SKARZYNSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Poland’s right-wing government breached EU law by allowing logging in one of Europe’s last primeval forests, the legal advisor to the bloc’s top court said Tuesday, setting up a new clash between Brussels and Warsaw. Logging in the Bialowieza Forest began in May 2016 but the European Commission took Poland to court last year arguing that it was destroying a forest that boasts unique plant and animal life.

Yves Bot, advocate general to the European Court of Justice, said the decisions by the Polish government to allow logging in forest “infringe EU law”, and that Warsaw has “failed to fulfill its obligations” under the bloc’s environment rules. The logging was “liable to result in a deterioration of the breeding sites of protected species.”

The Luxembourg-based EU court often, but not always, follows the legal opinions of the advocate general when making its final decision. Its ruling is expected at a later date. Activists, scientists and other critics allege Poland is engaged in commercial logging but the government insists it is only felling trees for public safety reasons in accordance with the EU injunction.

Bialowieza includes one of the largest surviving parts of the primeval forest that covered the European plain 10,000 years ago. The vast woodland, which straddles the border with Belarus, is home to 800 European bison, the continent’s largest mammal. The court formally ordered Poland in July to suspend logging pending a final judgement, and in December it threatened the government with fines of up to 100,000 euros ($118,000) a day if it continued.

The Polish government says it is already “100 percent” compliant with the EU injunction. The case is the latest in a string of issues causing tension between Warsaw and Brussels, which has watched the Polish administration’s recent judicial reforms with alarm. In December, after months of warnings, the European Commission launched an unprecedented procedure against Poland that could strip Warsaw of its voting rights in the bloc if it does not scrap the reforms.

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