morning in the forest

July 13, 2017; BBC News, “Europe”

Poland’s slide toward authoritarianism has been spilling over into the environmental sector, but a new ruling by European Union officials could halt the damage.

According to the BBC, the trouble started when the Polish government increased logging in a conservation area called the Białowieża Forest, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Europe’s last ancient forest, to curb a bark beetle infestation. The move faced backlash from by Green activists and others trying to protect the endangered species inside the 350,000-acre preserve that borders Belarus.

The EU’s top court issued a ruling this week.

The EU Commission took the unusual step of asking the court to impose an immediate ban on the logging because it takes on average two years to reach a judgment in cases like these, and the EU is worried the logging is already causing irreparable damage… If it eventually rules that Poland has infringed EU environmental regulations, it can impose hefty fines on Warsaw.

The New York Times even highlighted the yearlong battle to save the forest.

The protesters, backed by environmentalists, say all invasive operations in the primeval forest endanger its ecosystem… The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, is on their side, too. Last week, during a meeting in Krakow, the delegates adopted a decision in which they urged Polish government to halt logging in the forest, especially in old-growth tree stands. UNESCO is also considering adding the forest to the List of World Heritage in Danger, a move usually reserved for land and properties threatened by armed conflicts and natural disasters.

Avid international civil society watchers may note that Poland is one of many countries where illiberal democracy is taking hold, particularly after U.S. President Donald Trump visited the country last week to admonish “the creep of government bureaucracy,” berate “fake news” journalists, and spread his nationalist message before the Group of 20 summit in Germany.

EU officials also criticized Poland’s administration over a new law allowing parliament to appoint judges, arguing that the change will politicize the justice system and undermine the separation of powers, according to the BBC.

Although activists are planning a protest in Warsaw for the weekend, Reuters noted that “the opposition has been unable to marshal any real public protest against the ruling party’s moves, reflecting Poles’ frustration with a system in which even simple court cases can last years.”

Increasingly, the European Union has stepped up as a watchdog. Just this week, the EU Commission announced plans to open cases against the three states that have failed to take in asylum-seekers per a 2015 plan: Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic.

“Poland and Hungary have refused to take in a single person under a plan agreed in 2015 to relocate 160,000 asylum-seekers from Italy and Greece, which had been overwhelmed by mass influx of people from the Middle East and Africa,” Reuters reported. “The Czech Republic had initially taken in 12 people from their assigned quota of 2,691, but said earlier in June it would take no more in, citing security concerns.

However, the European Union’s internal conflicts could threaten its role in the future.

“The bloc’s divisive migration disputes have come at a time its unity and resolve are already being tested by Brexit, weak economies and higher support for populist, Eurosceptic and nationalist-minded parties on the continent,” Reuters reporters Gabriela Baczynska and Foo Yun Chee wrote. “It pits the formerly communist easterners against the wealthy westerners and countries on the Mediterranean coast, with Italy leading calls to punish Poland and Hungary by taking away some of the generous EU funds they benefit from.”—Anna Berry