21/03/2007
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Poland's Reckless Approach to Natural Treasure Lands it in European Court of Justice

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Black Grouse: Threatened by road developments in Poland (photo: Chris Jones).

Polish and European environmental NGOs welcomed today's decision by the European Commission to refer Poland to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) for breaching EU environmental law by planning construction of the Via Baltica expressway through the protected Rospuda Valley, in north-east Poland.

The Commission has also made use of special procedures ("interim measures") to ask the Court to make an urgent order requiring Poland to suspend works immediately, until the full judgement is given. As construction firms are already on site, environmental NGOs hope that the Court will make a decision within days in order to protect the valley from irreversible damage.

For years environmental groups have complained that the currently proposed routing of the road does not respect EU law and that a viable and significantly less damaging alternative exists.

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Magda Stoczkiewicz, Bankwatch's Policy Coordinator, said: "It is very unfortunate that Poland is to be taken to the European Court of Justice over the Rospuda Valley case, but it is no surprise given the government's rash approach to European law in this instance. The Commission's firm stand on this issue is encouraging and it can only be hoped now that the verdict of the Court will be positive for the valley, one of Poland's and Europe's unique natural treasures."

These road developments on Via Baltica, as they are currently proposed, run straight through the Augustow and Knyszyn Primeval Forests. These are Special Protection Areas under the Birds Directive and should be proposed as Sites of Community Importance under the Habitats Directive - Europe's major laws for the protection of natural environment.

"The whole European Partnership of BirdLife International supports the important move taken by the European Commission today and also the sense of urgency that has driven the European Commission in the past months. We also fully support the request that an order be made for Poland to stop construction work pending the consideration of the Court. This is a crucial case and Poland, just as other EU Member States, must fulfil its obligations to respect EU nature legislation," added Konstantin Kreiser, EU Policy Manager of Birdlife International.

Marta Majka Wisniewska of WWF Poland said: "The request from the Commission for so-called interim measures is further evidence of how bad the situation is. A key natural habitat with protected species could be lost because of a lack of will to assess alternative solutions. Instead of being proud about bringing such a natural treasure to Europe, Poland is putting it at risk. This situation must be stopped immediately."

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Written by: BirdLife International