Poland’s Fight With The EU: Enter The Bison

ECJ's interim measures against Poland for logging in the Biaowiea forest further strains relations between the country and the European Union

After the threat of Grexit and the reality of Brexit, are we heading toward Polexit? Coming on top of the ongoing row between Brussels and Warsaw over the right-wing Polish government’s moves to subvert the independence of the judiciary and press freedoms, a new dispute has broken out—this time over logging in the Biaowiea Forest, a UNESCO World Heritage site that is a rare survivor of primeval woodland and the last bastion of European bison.

Since Poland ignored previous requests to suspend logging, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has imposed interim measures. This extraordinary legal tool halts actions that are subject to legal dispute with immediate effect.

According to Agata Szafraniuk, a lawyer in the biodiversity program of ClientEarth’s Warsaw office, emergency measures have only been used three times in nature conservation issues during the European Union’s history. A decade ago, a ban was imposed against Jan Szyszko in his first term as Poland’s Environment minister to prevent the construction of a road through the environmentally precious Rospuda Valley, which is protected under the EU’s Natura 2000 program. The road was rerouted.

It was Szyszko’s decision in March 2016 to allow hugely increased timber harvesting, which has led to the current ban. This time he seems determined to tough it out, arguing the trees need to be logged to eradicate bark beetle.

Polish protestors were joined recently in the forest by environmentalists from the Czech Republic, the Netherlands and Germany to attempt to prevent the felling of approximately 1,500 trees a day. Meanwhile, the legal arguments continue. As Szafraniuk points out, to date an interim measure imposed by the ECJ has never been ignored. The case poses a further flashpoint in already strained relations between the EU and Poland.