Białowieża logging illegal says top EU legal adviser

Poland broke EU law by increasing timber logging in a protected primeval forest. That’s the view of a top legal adviser to the EU court.

Yves Bot – a French magistrate and one of 11 advocate generals who advise the judges at the EU Court of Justice – has called on the court to rule that Poland infringed EU nature protection rules by increasing the number of logging licences granted for Białowieża forest.

Białowieża forest – also recognised by the United Nations as a UNESCO World Heritage Site – is almost unique in mainland Europe, with untouched pristine woodland home to hundreds of natural treasures such as the European Bison and the three-toed woodpecker.

Agata Szafraniuk, a lawyer from environmental law group ClientEarth, welcomed today’s opinion:

“The increased logging in the Bialowieza Forest breaches EU nature laws because Polish authorities failed to adequately protect rare and precious species in this ancient forest. What’s more, they even failed to assess what impact the logging could have on the unique nature of the forest, which is also required by the law.”

An opinion issued by an advocate general is not binding but the court rarely ignores their opinions.

Szafraniuk added:

“We are not surprised by this important legal opinion. That has been our stance from the beginning. From the legal point of view this case is really very simple. The opinion by the Advocate General proposes a settlement of the case. Opinions are not binding for the Court but the statistics show that in a vast majority of cases, the judges follow them in the final ruling.”

On 20 November last year, the EU court told the Polish government it would face €100,000 a day in fines if it did not stop illegal logging within two weeks. The landmark ruling was the first of its kind to impose fines on a country before a case has been concluded.

The case was brought to the EU Court of Justice by the European Commission when it called on the EU court to slap a hefty fine on the Polish government following its refusal to respect an emergency ban on logging in Bialowieza that was issued by the EU court in July 2017.

The European Commission said that logging in Białowieża was a breach of EU nature rules as the forest is part of the EU’s ‘Natura 2000’ network of protected sites where nature-damaging activities are restricted.

The Polish government claimed logging was crucial in order to tackle a bark beetle outbreak. Yves Bot dismissed these claims in his opinion.

The final EU Court of Justice ruling will be published in March and it will enter into force immediately. If Poland ignores the ruling it could face huge financial penalties.