Last Thursday, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled on a complaint filed against Poland by the European Commission. This is the aftermath of an amendment to the Forest Act that took place in 2016. The Court ruled that ‘nature conservation’ organisations should have the right to challenge forest management plans in court. Such a ruling could paralyse forest management and have negative consequences. This is yet another attempt to block Poland’s competitive timber industry.
The European Commission accused Poland of violating the provisions of the EU animal and bird settlement directive by introducing provisions into national law stating that “forest management based on good practice does not infringe any provision on nature conservation falling within the scope of Council Directive.” The EC also accused Poland of failing to allow environmental organisations to challenge forest management plans before the court. All at the request of three organisations, i.e., Frank Bold Foundation, Pracownia na rzecz Wszystkich Istot and WWF Poland.
It is worth mentioning that the area of forests in Poland is currently over 9 million hectares. This makes the State Forests the largest organisation in the European Union managing forests owned by the State Treasury. Already Adam Loret, the first director of the State Forests and a great authority of foresters, pointed out that “the importance of forestry is not limited to the economic side in the life of the nation,” as “the forest still has many irreplaceable properties for the country.”
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However, the European Commission’s position is disagreed with by the State Forests, which referred to the judgment in a special statement.
It is worth mentioning that proceedings concerning forest management plans are also pending before civil courts across Poland, which means that access to the courts is ensured.
In a ruling issued on 2 March, the Court downplayed Polish arguments and sided with the European Commission. This means that Poland should change its legislation, otherwise financial penalties may be imposed on it. Only adjusting the law, as expected by the CJEU, could lead to disastrous economic consequences.
The ruling of the EU Court of Justice has resonated loudly in Poland.
The CJEU ruling is yet another instalment in the dispute over Polish forests, which are among the best in the entire European Union. The Polish model of sustainable forest management has so far been a model for other countries. This is because it is based on the experience of several generations of Polish foresters and their 100 years of experience, as well as drawing on the latest scientific advances and implementing modern technologies. As a result, the Polish model of forest land management balances the need to protect natural heritage with economic and social needs. Unfortunately, this is increasingly getting in the way.
As a reminder, the European Parliament is working on a legislative amendment to move forestry from so-called national competencies to so-called shared competencies. Such a change would contradict the Lisbon Treaty, as it states that forestry is exclusively decided by member states.