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European Commission - Press release

Environment: Commission urges Poland to comply with nature protection rules

Brussels, 26 January 2012 – The European Commission is warning Poland over a breach of nature protection legislation. The case concerns a failure to assess the environmental impact of open-cast mining in a Natura 2000 conservation area at Goplo Lake in North Central Poland. On the recommendation of Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik, the Commission is sending a reasoned opinion and asking Poland to comply within two months. If it fails to do so, the Commission may refer the case to the EU Court of Justice.

Goplo Lake is protected under the Habitats Directive, which is part of the EU's Natura 2000 legislation. Under Community law, potential adverse effects on areas protected under the Habitats Directive and endangered bird species protected under the Birds Directive must be properly assessed before any work can commence.

The mine in question – an open cast brown coal mine of the new "Tomisławice" deposit at the Konin mine in Kleczew S.A. – is located in close proximity to the protected lake. The Commission is concerned that insufficient data was provided for the assessment, and that erroneous assumptions may have altered the outcome, with potentially significant negative outcomes for protected flora and fauna. A letter of formal notice and meetings with the Polish authorities have not resolved the issue, so a reasoned opinion has been sent. Poland has two months to reply.

Background

Europe's nature is protected by two key pieces of legislation, the Habitats Directive and the Birds Directive. Under the Habitats Directive, Member States draw up a list of Sites of Community Importance (SCIs) on their territory that can make a significant contribution to preserving Europe's habitat types. Member States then have six years to bring in domestic legislation turning the SCIs into strictly protected Special Areas of Conservation (SAC). Under the Birds Directive, Member States are obliged to designate suitable sites as Special Protection Areas (SPAs) for the conservation of wild birds. The designation of SPAs must be based on objective, verifiable scientific criteria.

Taken together, SCIs, SPAs and SACs form the Natura 2000 network of protected areas, which is the EU's most important instrument for conserving natural habitats and the animal and plant species they contain.

Natura 2000 sites are "green infrastructure" designed to safeguard biodiversity and the many services that Europe's ecosystems provide, helping to ensure that Europe's natural resources remain healthy and resilient. This legislation does not prohibit new activities or developments in protected areas – in fact, the Habitats Directive contains a clear procedure for assessing proposals that are likely to have an impact on designated sites, to ensure that they do not adversely affect the integrity of the site, and to ensure that if damage is unavoidable, appropriate compensation measures are put in place.

Further information:

For current statistics on infringements in general:

http://ec.europa.eu/community_law/infringements/infringements_en.htm

For more details on the Natura 2000 network:

http://natura2000.eea.europa.eu

See also MEMO/12/42

Contacts :

Joe Hennon (+32 2 295 35 93)

Monica Westeren (+32 2 299 18 30)


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