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European Commission takes last minute action to stop illegal expressway construction in Poland

Press release - July 30, 2007
Brussels, Belgium — Environmental NGOs, including BirdLife International, the CEE Bankwatch Network, OTOP, the Polish partner of BirdLife International, Greenpeace, WWF Poland and Wetland Conservation Centre support the European Commission's decision to ask the European Court of Justice to halt imminent construction of the 'Via Baltica' expressway through the pristine Rospuda Wetlands in north-east Poland. The wildlife-rich Rospuda Valley is protected under EU environment law.

In today's announcement the Commission asked the European Court to make an urgent order ('interim measures') requiring Poland to suspend works immediately, until a full Court judgement is delivered. Breaching EU environmental law and ignoring its own commitment to wait for a decision of the court, Poland had announced the start of construction of the Via Baltica expressway for August 1st. [1] The European Commission originally took Poland to the Court on this matter in March 2007. [2]

The Rospuda valley is a designated Natura 2000 site for its status as an area of outstanding biodiversity value. [3] It is home to the protected Lesser-spotted Eagle Aquila pomarina and White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla, Western Capercaillie Tetrao urogallus, and others. Wetlands located in the valley (including such EU habitats as alkaline fens and bog forests) belong to the most pristine ones of that type within Europe. The Via Baltica road development plan runs straight through the Augustow Forest and other protected areas.

Magda Stoczkiewicz, Bankwatch's Policy Coordinator, said: "The arrogance of the Polish government towards European law and legal institutions - namely the European Court of Justice - is appalling. Still, we believe that due to the European Commission's reaction, devastation of the unique Rospuda Valley will be halted."

Since the proposals for the Via Baltica Expressway were first outlined, environmental NGOs and conservationists in Poland and across Europe, as well as many Members of the European Parliament, have expressed strong opposition to the project, arguing that economically viable and less-devastating alternative routes exist to satisfy Poland's need for better infrastructure.

"Unfortunately, along the investment planning process numerous national and EU law requirements had been ignored. To let the Polish government go ahead with the planned work on Via Baltica may result in irreversible harm to wildlife and also withholding EU funds for the infrastructure investments", said Marta Majka Wisniewska of WWF Poland.

Izabela Flor, Director of OTOP, the Polish Partner of BirdLife International said "This case has developed into a real test case for the enforcement of European legislation in Poland. Poland receives significant funding from the EU, and should also fulfil its duties as a Member State and live up to its responsibility to protect a unique European natural heritage."

Maciej Muskat of Greenpeace Poland added: "If, as the government plans, road building through the Rospuda Valley recommences on 1 August, a great many people will come to the valley, to defend its natural wealth and to prevent the violation of Polish and European law."

Other contacts:

Ellen Townsend, EU Policy and Advocacy Officer BirdLife International, Brussels, +32 (0)2 2800830

Magda Stoczkiewicz, Policy Coordinator of CEE Bankwatch Network, Brussels, +32 (0)2 5420188

Maciek Muskat, Campaign Coordinator, Greenpeace Poland, Warsaw, : +48 509 058 651

Wiktor Kotowski, President of the Wetland Conservation Centre, Warsaw, +48 517751379

Marta Majka Wisniewska, EU Policy Coordinator of WWF Poland, Warsaw, +48 602888143

Malgorzata Znaniecka, Important Bird Area Casework Officer of the Polish Society for the Protection of the Birds (OTOP/BirdLife Poland), Bialystok, +48 605072963