European Union court adviser backs Commission in forest dispute with Poland

Advocate General of the Court of Justice of the EU speaks out for Bialowieza Forest

Poland's decisions to increase logging operations in the primeval forest of Bialowieza "are necessarily liable to result in a deterioration of the breeding sites of the protected species", the court's advocate general Yves Bot said.

The dispute over Bialowieza forest is part of a greater clash between the European Union executive and the EU's biggest eastern member, whose ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party is accused of undermining democracy.

The logging started in 2017 after the Polish minister for the environment the previous year authorized a near tripling of wood harvesting there due to what authorities said was a spreading infestation of the spruce bark beetle.

Poland's Bialowieza Forest is one of Europe's last remaining primeval forests and a UNESCO World Heritage site.

ClientEarth, an environmental group headquartered in London, and other groups filed a complaint with the European Commission, which took the case to the ECJ, charging that Poland was in violation of EU laws to protect habitat and birds.

At stake is not only the unique biodiversity of the woodland but also, some lawyers and environmentalists say, the future of European institutions and the rule of law.

Today's decision is a non-binding legal opinion ahead of a final European Court of Justice ruling.

The European Commission said on Tuesday it was "taking note" of the ECJ opinion on Bialowieza but would wait for the final ruling before making any further comments. Judges are not obliged to follow the advocate general's opinions, but often do.

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.

"We hope that Minister Kowalczyk will abide by the law and not give in to the pressure of those who under the guise of public security want to cut down trees for commercial purposes in the most valuable, natural fragments of the forest".

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