November 21, 2017 / 11:41 AM / a year ago

Poland reacts coolly to EU court warning of fines for logging

WARSAW, Nov 21 (Reuters) - Poland reacted coolly to a warning it could incur fines for continuing to log in the Bialowieza forest, a UNESCO World Heritage site, saying on Tuesday its actions were lawful.

The Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice (ECJ) said on Monday Poland would be fined 100,000 euros ($117,360.00) a day if it did not stop large-scale logging in the ancient forest straddling the border between Poland and Belarus.

The court also reiterated its July stance that Poland must stop the logging immediately pending a final ruling in a case the EU’s Brussels-based executive brought before the tribunal.

Speaking to radio Wnet in the government’s first response to the court’s statement, environment minister Jan Szyszko did not make clear whether Poland planned to halt logging to avoid the fine, but added: “We fulfil the tribunal’s recommendations 100 percent.”

Szyszko approved tripling of the quota of wood that can be harvested in one of three administrative areas of the Bialowieza Forest in March 2016, triggering environmentalists’ protests and dividing Polish society.

He has argued that it would help stop a beetle outbreak unseen in decades that harms spruce and ensure the safety of people strolling in the forest, where trees have been weakened.

According to environmentalists from the so called Camp for Forest, which has been trying to block harvesting in Bialowieza, logging in the forest continued until Monday.

“Polish citizens, most of them against logging in Bialowieza Forest, could now start paying penalties if Polish authorities continue to ignore the official order by the European Court,” Dariusz Gatkowski from the WWF conservation group in Poland said.

The row feeds into a wider clash between the EU and its biggest eastern member where the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party is accused of undermining democratic standards, including weakening judicial independence.

“We will be doing everything to avoid the fines,” Poland’s Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski told radio RMF.

Both Waszczykowski and Szyszko might be replaced as part of the expected government reshuffle this year, local media said, quoting sources within the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party. ($1 = 0.8521 euros) (Reporting by Agnieszka Barteczko, Editing by William Maclean; Additional reporting by Pawel Florkiewicz)

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