EU halts road through Poland

2nd August 2007
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The future of one of Europe’s most pristine wildlife sites hangs in the balance as landmark EU legal wrangling continues over a controversial Polish highway
The European Court of Justice will decide within the next few days whether to issue an injunction temporarily halting work on a controversial highway through the Rospuda Valley in Poland.

The valley, close to the Lithuanian border in north-east Poland, is home to a range of protected species including lynx, wild boar and beavers. More than 20 rare or threatened bird species breed less than a kilometre from the proposed route of the Via Baltica highway.

The temporary injunction, should it be taken out, will be the first issued to a EU member state on environmental grounds. The route of the new highway is in breach of the EU Habitats and Birds Directives, which protect vulnerable species and habitats. Wildlife campaigning groups, including the RSPB, have been lobbying hard for the road to take a shorter and less damaging route, which they claim would be as good as the current proposal.

The Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski halted work on the highway yesterday under pressure from the European Commission. Mr Pisarski, press officer at the Polish Embassy, told the Ecologist this morning that work will remain suspended whilst negotiations with the EU continue. He said that the Polish government: “don’t know what will happen” and, “are waiting for further [EU] decisions”.

Other new EU member states are watching this legal wrangling with great interest and, if Poland flouts European law, the consequences for other irreplaceable sites could be grave. Izabela Flor, Director of the Polish Bird Protection Society, OTOP, said: “This case has developed into a real test case for the enforcement of European legislation in Poland”.

This article first appeared in the Ecologist August 2007