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Via Baltica challenged

Poland referred to European Court of Justice

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 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. said Konstantin Kreiser, EU Policy Manager at Birdlife International. We also fully support the request that an order be made for Poland to stop construction work pending the consideration of the Court.

In today’s ruling the Commission 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.

This is a crucial case and Poland, just as other EU Member States, must fulfil its obligations to respect EU nature legislation, added Kreiser.The road developments on Via Baltica, as they are currently proposed, run straight through the Augustow and Knyszyn Primeval Forests. Both sites are listed as Special Protection Areas under the Birds Directive and are proposed Sites of Community Importance under the Habitats Directive – Europe’s major laws for the protection of natural environment.

Since the proposals for the Via Baltica Expressway were first outlined, conservationists in Poland and across Europe have outwardly displayed their opposition to the project, arguing that economically viable and less-devastating alternative routes exist.

Of the decision, Marta Majka Wiœniewska 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. 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, added Magda Stoczkiewicz, Bankwatch’s Policy Coordinator.

4th July 2014