Credit: Friends of the Earth Europe

€800m Polish canal is ‘environmental hooliganism’

First it was Białowieża, a protected primeval forest, now the spectacular Vistula Lagoon is the latest nature hotspot in Poland that is under threat. Despite widespread protests, the Polish government has given its go-ahead to construction of a canal between Vistula Lagoon and the Baltic Sea.

Environmental groups have appealed to the Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella to step in and halt the 800 million euro project which is in breach of EU nature protection laws under which the 90km-long Vistula Lagoon is protected.

Construction began last November and now the forest in the construction area of the future channel is being logged.

The new canal will be around 1300 metres long and 5 metres deep and will be navigable by ships up to 100 metres long and 20 metres wide.

The construction has no environment permit and an Environmental Impact Assessment which was carried out in 2011 recommended abandoning the project because of the foreseen negative effects.

Environmental organisations have repeatedly denounced the impact of the project on protected nature and have written to the European Commission to ask for its immediate intervention to ensure that EU law is upheld.

The European Commission is the body responsible for enforcing EU nature protection laws and referring governments to the EU Court of Justice (ECJ) when laws are breached, often making the EU executive nature’s last line of defence.

Last year the Polish government was forced to halt the destruction of the ancient Białowieża forest after the European Court of Justice threatened it with huge fines.

Environmental group Polski Klub Ekologiczny (Friends of the Earth Poland) have called on the Polish government to immediately stop the forest in Vistula Lagoon being cleared for the canal.

Maria Staniszewska from the group said that “the fact that this destruction has started illegally shows the contempt our government has to the rule of law.”

Staniszewska said:

This canal is unnecessary and opposed by local communities and the local government. It will cause untold damage to an incredible place for nature as well as damage the local tourist economy.

Adrian Bebb, a nature campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe said that Polish government has “once again flouted their commitments to protect our nature” by giving the green light to “this illegal environmental hooliganism”.

EU nature protection laws – the Birds and Habitats Directives – have played a major role in ensuring that some of the most valuable and endangered habitats and species in Europe are preserved, in particular through the largest network of protected areas in the world – the Natura 2000 network – which now covers over one fifth of EU land and nearly a tenth of its seas. But a 2016 evaluation of the Nature Directives revealed that far too little has been done to implement and enforce them.

The European Environmental Bureau, BirdLife Europe, WWF European Policy Office, and Friends of the Earth Europe are calling on Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella to use the remaining months left of his mandate to “leave a lasting legacy for nature” by intervening on protected sites where EU environmental law is not being properly enforced.