After a year-long proceedings, the European Court of Justice stated that Poland violates the European law by logging trees in Bialowieza Forest. According to the Court in Luxembourg, Poland, which was sued by the European Commission, violates the bird and habitat directives.
This seemingly minor case evokes great emotions in Poland. It has wide-ranging consequences going far beyond the subject of environmental protection. It has become political strife about the competences of Brussels and the level of autonomy of the member countries.
The Bialowieza Forest, with its area of 1500 km2, is the last remaining part of a primeval forest which used to stretch across the vast European Plains, from Ural to the Atlantic Ocean. It is also the last habitat of European Bison.
In 2016, the minister of the environment, who came from already-ruling-at-that-time PiS (Law and Justice), recognised the Forest to be threatened by an infestation of a pest – spruce bark beetle. He ordained logging and removing the infected trees. The affair soon ceased to concern environmental protection and became an element of constant argument concerning the rules of PiS. It became another element of the political war.
Numerous environmental organisations tried to protect the Forest. Many of which were foreign – well nature has no borders – and many of their protests, as it often happens, changed into regular clashes with police and other authorities. Opposition took the environmentalists’ side and they started operating in Brussels. For them, the issue of Bialowieza Forest was another proof of the terrible ruling of PiS. They believed that the ruling party is willing to destroy the remnants of the primeval Forest, which is no longer owned by Poland, but is a legacy of the whole planet, for the sake of revenues of the government and the furniture industry.
The case was proceeded to the European Court of Justice which made a final decision and prohibited the logging. It inflamed not only the discussion about environmental protection but also the dispute about the competences of the EU and the scope of the European clerks’ power. For the opposition, the verdict means that Poland needs to be defended by the EU against its government which violates the law, constitution and democracy. For the supporters of the present government, but also for those who stay in between PiS and the opposition, it is another proof for the arrogance of the Euro-crates, for constant centralisation and taking over the competences of the sovereign countries by Brussels.
And so it turns out that Poland loses power over 800 km2 of its territory (half of the Forest is Polish, half Belarusian) and they are European clerks who decide what a sovereign country can do within its borders, and what it can’t do, how to protect this area and how to manage it.
Moreover, the ordinated prohibition of logging is valid also for the buffer zone of the Bialowieza Forest – an ordinary forest, plenty of which may be found across Europe. Does it mean that the European Commission, or other European institutions, may prohibit logging trees in any forest in Europe?
Interference of the Commission and the Court’s decision show how detached from reality are the Euro-crates. Half of the Bialowieza Forest is located in Belarus where the EU has no power. Theoretically, Belarus may cut down all of their trees and the EU cannot do anything about it. Especially, it cannot enlighten Belarus in how to take care of their primeval forest.
Latest research show that the number of Polish supporters of leaving the Union augmented to 30%. The Court’s decision may only enlarge this number since most Polish people do not believe that Euro-crates have the slightest idea on how to protect a primeval forest. The verdict, and even the fact of considering the case, shows the immense arrogance of Brussels. Poland (except of Sweden and Finland in their remote regions in the north) is the only European country where big areas of the primeval nature remained. And now those who not only don’t have such forests like the Bialowieza Forest because they had logged them in the past, but haven’t even seen one, tell us how to protect our forest.
In Poland, forest is not just an abstractive idea. 30% of the country is covered by forests. Moreover, what is very unique in the EU, 40% of Polish citizens live in the countryside. Poles do not learn about nature and how to protect it during workshops run by ecological organisations, or during their action, but in their home villages, or in the place where they parents or grandparents live. From this perspective, interference of Euro-crates only proves their arrogance, pursuit of power, and complete detachment from those whom they should serve. It proves their callousness.
When dealing with this issue, it’s worth to mention the story which happened last autumn. The Bialowieza Forest is the only place in Europe where European bison live naturally in the wild. Poland helps other countries in rebuilding their herds. Only couple of days ago, 8 females were sent to Spain to restore the species there. 7 months ago, one bison, a male, started a great journey across Poland. It walked for hundreds of kilometres, it swam through Odra and found itself in Germany. There “the beast from the East” caused panic. The authorities, terrified that it might harm someone, killed the poor animal.
For many Poles it was a barbarian and callous act. An animal which walked through the whole country without harming or disturbing anyone, the contrary, inspiring awe for its beauty, died because of the decision of soulless, clueless clerks who didn’t even bother to ask Poland for advice on what to do and how to deal with such a jewel of nature.
Author: Dariusz Matuszak