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Polish logging in ancient forest breaches EU law

Luxembourg – Poland's decision to authorize logging in Bialowieza forest, one of Europe's last remaining primeval forests, is in breach of European Union law, a court advisor for the EU's top court said in an opinion on Tuesday.

Advocate General Yves Bot said that the European Court of Justice (ECJ) should rule that Poland hasd failed to fulfil its obligations under EU law to protect the site. The court is expected to hand down a verdict in the coming weeks in the pending case brought by the European Commission.

Area of particular value

The Polish government said it would analyse the opinion. "Poland, as a rule of law state, respects the advocate general's opinion," said Polish Environment Minister Henryk Kowalczyk.

"We will analyse the opinion thoroughly. Nevertheless, I can already confirm that Poland will respect and implement the European Court of Justice's ruling." He added that the Bialowieza forest was "an area of particular value for Poland."

"All measures undertaken so far were put in place in order to keep it in its best shape for current and next generations," Kowalczyk said.

The World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF), an environmental preservation organization, welcomed the court advisor's opinion.

Site of community importance

"It confirms what WWF has been saying all along, that it was illegal for the Polish government to increase logging in Bialowieza and place Europe’s best preserved lowland forest under threat," said Dariusz Gatkowski, biodiversity specialist at WWF Poland.

The commission designated the forest in 2007 as a "site of community importance," because of its ancient environment, which offers a habitat for thousands of plants and hundreds of animals, including such protected species as bison, wolves and lynx.

The site has also been designated as a "special protection area" for birds.

Poland authorized the tripling of logging activities in the forest in May 2016, saying that such action was necessary to contain damage caused by a spruce bark beetle infestation and to fight the risk of forest fires.

Court orders logging stop

The commission called on Poland to stop logging and took the country to court for its failure to do so.

The logging only stopped in December, after the ECJ ordered Poland to immediately stop the activity until a final judgement, or face a penalty of at least 100,000 euros (123,550 dollars) per day.

While judges are not bound by the opinions of court advisers, their verdicts often follow the recommendations.

The ECJ decision is yet another point of disagreement between Poland and the EU, whose relations have soured after the bloc's continued warnings about the erosion of rule of law by Poland's national-conservative Law and Justice party (PiS).