Wednesday

17th Aug 2022

EU-Polish conflict over motorway heads for climax

  • The Via Baltica is part of an international highway system linking Warsaw with Helsinki via the Baltic states (Photo: EUobserver)

The construction of a Polish motorway cutting through an EU nature reserve is set to go ahead this week despite protests from Brussels and green groups as well as the risk of an EU court case.

The Via Baltica – or European route E67 – is part of an international highway system linking Warsaw with Helsinki via the Baltic states.

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But Warsaw wants to build a section of the road through the Rospuda Valley in north-east Poland, where virgin forests and unique wetlands are home to the world's only population of aquatic warblers, as well as rare greater spotted eagles, lynx, wolves and protected plants.

The construction of the controversial 17 km stretch of road is set to start on Wednesday (1 August) - despite demonstrations by environmentalists in Warsaw and in Krakow this weekend - after being suspended in March because of the bird-nesting season.

"When joining the EU, Poland had committed itself to respecting the EU's laws," Greenpeace and local environmental organisations said in a joint statement released on Sunday (29 July).

The area is protected under the EU's Natura 2000 network of conservation sites and is recognised by Brussels as having special environmental interest, but Warsaw insists it is breaking no EU rules.

The European Commission said last week that it is ready to block the construction if it resumes, saying it would ask the European Court of Justice to halt the work.

"We are in the process of contacting the government on whether it has the intention to start the work on 1 August. There is a letter that can be just signed and sent to the court, asking for interim measures," commission spokeswoman Barbara Helfferich said on Wednesday (25 July).

The commission sent a letter to the Polish authorities in December warning it against building the road through the natural beauty spot.

EU environment commissioner Dimas has previously said that Polish offers of compensatory measures for the area, such as planting trees, were "weak and unconvincing."

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