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    CJEU ruled on Polish forests

    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.”

    Unfounded allegations

    However, the European Commission’s position is disagreed with by the State Forests, which referred to the judgment in a special statement. 

    “The first accusation is unfounded, as the legislation that raised the environmentalists’ doubts was repealed a year ago, of which the European Commission was informed, and the current law protects nature to an extent that even exceeds EU standards. Polish law also does not restrict public access to the procedure for developing forest management plans. During the obligatory public consultations, more than 90 per cent of the comments made by local communities, NGOs or local authorities are taken into account,”

    the Government Plenipotentiary for Forestry and Hunting, Edward Siarka, and Józef Kubica, Director General of the State Forests, point out.

    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 the current state of the law, plaintiffs have to credibly substantiate their lawsuits, indicating what real danger to nature the implementation of the adopted forest management plan entails. Changing Polish law in accordance with the CJEU judgment would mean that plans could be challenged without such justification. In practice it would lead to the paralysis of forest management throughout the country and the consequent collapse of the Polish timber industry,”

    the State Forests add.

    Dangerous consequences

    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 European Commission’s complaint, which was upheld by the CJEU, is yet another attempt to block the Polish competitive timber industry, which could lead to its collapse. It will result in a sudden spike in rural unemployment and a drastic increase in the price of wood products. Forest management provides hundreds of thousands of jobs and contributes 3 per cent of GDP, being one of the most important branches of the entire Polish economy,”

    State Forests warn.

    Loud opposition

    The ruling of the EU Court of Justice has resonated loudly in Poland. 

    “Germany hardly has any forests anymore while in our country there are more and more. A German cannot complain to the court about a forest management plan, in our country they want to let the meddlers paralyse the forest districts. The European Commission is again trying to destroy Polish forestry. They will not succeed,”

    State Forests spokesman Michał Gzowski pointed out. 

    “I will not allow NGOs to block forest management. I will consistently defend access to timber for Polish industry,”

    Secretary of State Edward Siarka tweeted.

    “Foreign organisations have been demanding in the European Commission to influence Polish forests – and the CJEU has just granted them this right. It is worth emphasising – this is not about ‘defending nature.’ This is about giving foreign organisations the right to block Polish decisions,”

    former Prime Minister and Law and Justice (PiS) MEP Beata Szydło wrote on Twitter.

    Another attack

    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. 

    “The European Commission’s proposals for legal solutions as a way to fight global warming would lead to the total collapse of the Polish timber industry, a serious weakening of the entire Polish economy, a spike in energy prices and, as a result, the impoverishment of society. The proposal to transfer forestry competencies to the European Union is another element of the changes to EU law that are unacceptable to the Polish side,”

    Solidary Poland stressed in a special statement. 

    “Forests are a Polish heritage that must be passed on in at least an unimpaired state to future generations. The Ministry of Climate and Environment and the State Forests are the guardians of Polish nature and must not take decisions that will endanger future generations of Poles,”

    the statement reads.
    State Forests / press material

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