Poland must quickly change its forest management laws as the EU Court of Justice ruled on Thursday that it violates the EU animal and bird settlement directive and prevented environmental organisations from questioning the government’s afforestation plans.
In its Thursday ruling, the CJEU addressed two of the Commission’s complaints against Poland, questioning the validity of a national clause stating that forest planning carried out in keeping with best practices violated the EU’s animal and bird settlement directive and the fact that environmental organisations are unable to question government afforestation plans in court.
“Any plan or project not directly connected with or necessary to the management of a site but likely to have a significant effect thereon, either individually or in combination with other plans or projects, is to be subject to appropriate assessment of its implications for the site given the site’s conservation objectives,” the ruling writes.
According to the court, Poland must also “ensure that environmental organisations are able to apply to a court for effective review of the substantive and procedural legality of forest management plans.”
The Commission took Poland before the EU court in 2021, reacting to three environmental organisations, including the WWF Poland, saying Poland did not ensure the strict protection of plant and animal species in forest management, which the organisations said infringed the Habitats and Birds Directives.
In 2017, Poland adopted a bill stating that afforestation, by the good practices, which were determined by the environment minister, does not violate EU or national laws on nature conservation.
This has left the animals and trees in Polish forests practically unprotected, Bartosz Kwiatkowski, lawyer of Frank Bold organisation, one of the complainants, told Gazeta.pl. “The Court made it clear that such legal provisions are unacceptable, and both the species and their habitats must be protected,” he added.
The possibility of questioning afforestation plans in court was particularly important during the mass deforestation of the Białowieża forest in 2017, which embraced about 200,000 m³ of trees and was only halted after the intervention by the CJEU.
“Now Poland must change the law as fast as possible and enable environmental NGOs to sue ministers’ decisions approving afforestation plans,” Kwiatkowski said.
(Aleksandra Krzysztoszek | EURACTIV.pl)