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Białowieża: Polish defiance continues in the ECJ hearing

On 11 September 2017, the European Court of Justice ECJ heard arguments relating to Poland’s failure to comply with the ECJ’s injunction (27 July) on logging in Białowieża Forest – a serious and unprecedented act of defiance, for which the European Commission has requested the imposition of financial penalties.

Tensions flared over the summer. The European Court of Justice had been granted interim measures pending a decision on broader infringement proceedings concerning Poland’s three-fold logging increase in Białowieża, a Natura 2000 and a World Heritage site, and home to some 150 species protected under EU legislation (FW 227). Poland dismissed international authorities’ interventions, public protests and petitions, ignored scientific consensus, and requested the financial information of those who disagree with the logging. More recently, a reporter was attacked, and activists have been threatened and physically harmed.

The high-profile hearing drew protesters on both sides and was, reportedly, no less antagonistic. Arguing that the logging concerned only public safety and sanitary cuts against a bark beetle infestation, Poland’s Environment Minister Jan Szyszko said that Poland’s “model forestry management” had no lessons in conservation to learn from the Commission. The Commission said the commercial cuts went far beyond bark beetle-infested trees and produced satellite photos to demonstrate Poland’s disrespect for the logging injunction.

Activists in the forest reported that harvesting of centuries-old trees continued even as arguments were heard in Luxembourg.