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Mardell's Eurobog

Mark Mardell | 19:59 UK time, Thursday, 30 August 2007

mardell_bog429.jpgMired, or even enmired, has always been one of my favourite words. Doubtless many times I have myself been metaphorically in the mire. But today I was quite literally enmired in the peat bogs of north-eastern Poland, as my wellies sank deep into this unique habitat of the short-toed eagle and spotted crake.

Luckily my producer Jo Mathys and Malgorzata Znaniecka from the Polish Society for the Protection of Birds were on hand to gallantly drag me out...

mardell_bog_203b.jpgThe area is not only home to various rare species of birds but is, according to some ecologists, one of the last remaining peat bogs in Europe. But the Polish government wants to build a bypass, and a bridge would go near the area where I fell over.

It’s one of those actually rather frequent cases where even if I didn’t have to be balanced and neutral (as the BBC demands), I would find it difficult to make a call one way or the other.

While Malgorzata makes her case with passion, so does the mayor of the nearby town of Augustow, Leszek Cieslik. He insists the motorway route and the bridge over the Rospuda river have been carefully considered and will do as little damage as possible. He makes the point that wherever one builds roads in this part of unspoilt Poland the environment will suffer.

mardell_bog203.jpgThe hard politics of this is that the environmentalists are appealing to European Union rules to stop this route, and the Polish government is having to answer to the European Court of Justice.

Does the EU, in effect Poland’s 26 partner countries, have a moral right to tell Poland where to build its roads? Have your say now or make your mind up after reading my full article. You can also listen to my radio report on PM or the World Service.

Comments   Post your comment

  • 1.
  • At 10:07 PM on 30 Aug 2007,
  • Natalia wrote:

I do not agree with building a bypass in that part of Poland. Although, it might be economically viable for the near town of Augustow, it is going to have adverse effects on the environment. It appears that the Polish government is only looking at immediate gains from this project. I believe that the EU should be involved if the Polish government cannot foresee how their decision can affect the future of this unique ecosystem.

No. The EU can go swivel. It should not interfere in the business of any member state. Indeed, it should not exist at all. The EU does too much, has too much power, and is heading in precisely the wrong direction from both its original intention and from where it needs to be in order to enable its members to compete in a globalised economy.

  • 3.
  • At 10:29 PM on 30 Aug 2007,
  • Mariusz wrote:

I am glad that at least someone outside of Poland asks this important question. The so called "western countries" had enough time to ruin their environment without giving chance for a green discussion. As you noticed that particular region is very unique at the same time people have to use their cars. Someone has to decide where to build, in my opinion the decision belongs to the people on the ground suffering from traffic fatalities. At the same time outsiders can suggest other valid solutions. If EU wants to have it their way then they should finance a new research and any additional costs required to save the enclave. And it has to be done in timely manner so locals don't have to suffer.

I am green myself but I will never put the peoples well being over animals.

  • 4.
  • At 11:22 PM on 30 Aug 2007,
  • Thierry wrote:

Sir, no one doubt Poland, or Eastern and South-Eastern Europe for that matter, is in need of infrastructure development.
However, when Poland joined the EU, it agreed to accept the "acquis communautaires" or body of previous EU legislation/regulation, including wildlife and environment protections. If the Polish government wants to renege on its committments to uphold the law and international treaties, they are free to do so as any sovereign country is ...... but that doesn't mean EU funds should be used to help such a project, and this is the heart of the problem : Poland wants the EU to fund this project as much as possible.
Any law-abiding citizens shouldn't accept this, irrespective of the need for infrastructure. Better for the EU to help the Polish government re-draw the planned highway or ensure regulations are respected.

Best regards,

  • 5.
  • At 12:07 AM on 31 Aug 2007,
  • Karol wrote:

Of course it has the right to tell countries when they're stepping out of line. I wish they were a little more strict on other areas of Polish politics sometimes... Besides - it was the countries themselves that specified which areas are to be included in the Natura 2000 protection programme... Hence, all this mess is, as always, some silly typical Polish bureaucratical mess.

I elect to say something now!

Well, I don't think this IS the EU telling Poland what to do. What the court of justice is doing is supporting the case of the Polish environmentalists under existing legislation that Poland has signed up to as an EU partner.

It is always a difficult argument this - does the EU have the right to do this or that. But really it is often just an excuse. Because in many cases EU law actually reflects national laws fairly closely. So if it wasn't the EU legal system saying what you can or cannot do it would be a home grown court. And lets face it, that is still a bunch of strangers.

It is something the increasingly silly UKIP don't seem to get. People just don't like being told what to do by anyone - whether that person is French, Polish, Irish or the bloke next door just adds that typically British touch of Xenophobia to the scenario.

  • 7.
  • At 01:06 AM on 31 Aug 2007,
  • Norman Thirlaway wrote:

No, no, no - The EU must NOT have the right to interfere in Polands internal planning. Perhaps it may suggest, but no more. ( I am not an EU supporter in any way.)

This is the kind of interference which will eventually damn the EU for what it is - an over-regulated centralised burocracy.

  • 8.
  • At 02:01 AM on 31 Aug 2007,
  • jp wrote:

nope, they shouldn't. in the 'old' eu countries, the infrastructure is already developed and somehow they didn't care the least about environment when building their roads.why should we, the poles be stopped by bureaucrats from building our future?

  • 9.
  • At 03:32 AM on 31 Aug 2007,
  • Alistair Mitchell wrote:

If the Polish people are against building the road and they ask the EU to do something about it then i think that in this case the EU can, to a certain degree tell Poland what it can and can't do.

  • 10.
  • At 05:32 AM on 31 Aug 2007,
  • Ken wrote:

Yes, Poland should listen to EU concerns. Moreover, there should be one central interstate and express way agency within EU to coordinate design, routing, construction, maintenance, information system of main EU express roads. It will help to avoid possible funds mismanagement in local authorities and allow construction companies to bid more freely for projects in other states. Construction costs of public roads are very diverse across EU, this should not be acceptable. I wish somebody could look deeper into this problem.

  • 11.
  • At 07:29 AM on 31 Aug 2007,
  • asier wrote:

Does anybaody think that building motorways in unspoilt places is progress?Any interference to protect the landscape and the environment is welcome. The land and the citizens must be protected from authorities that don´t respect the land and building enterprises that seek to become richer day by day spoiling our natural heritage. Please, stop the high speed railway they want to buil in the Basque Country destroying our mountainous landscape!!!!

  • 12.
  • At 07:43 AM on 31 Aug 2007,
  • Ian wrote:

I'm quite sure the people of Poland are sensible enough to make their own decisions without interference from anybody, whether they are in the EU or not.

  • 13.
  • At 08:22 AM on 31 Aug 2007,
  • Niall wrote:

This is not a case of the EU telling the Polish what to do. It is a case of the Polish people trying to do something for themselves. The European Court of Justice will provide them with a means of challenging what they see as an unjust decision by their government.
To imply that it is the EU butting into the business of the Polish government is simply not the case.

  • 14.
  • At 08:24 AM on 31 Aug 2007,
  • Peter wrote:

jp asked in an earlier comment asked "...why should we, the poles be stopped by bureaucrats from building our future?"

There is a very simple answer to that question: Poland has joined the EU in 2004. It implies that Poland's future is also EU's future and it should, like any other Member State, follow EU regulations to protect our environment and ensure that future generations will still benefit from it. If we do not learn from past experiences, there is little hope for *our* future will be improve on the present situation.

  • 15.
  • At 08:54 AM on 31 Aug 2007,
  • S Lowe wrote:

Sorry to be pedantic, but the EU is not telling Poland where to build it's roads, but rather where not to build them :)

Believe me there are a very many people in Poland that are firmly against this road being built on the planned route (not only twitchers).

In my opinion this issue has a lot to do with the current government's belligerent attitude to the EU. Actions and attitudes of the government at the moment often seem not to reflect the views of many Poles, and this is perhaps a good example of that.

  • 16.
  • At 09:31 AM on 31 Aug 2007,
  • John wrote:

Yes it does.

Maybe those objecting should read the accession treaty that Poland voted yes for in a referendum.

  • 17.
  • At 09:31 AM on 31 Aug 2007,
  • Łukasz Dutka wrote:

The area where the road is to be built is a part of ecological network called "Natura 2000". It was Polish government which compiled the list of special wildlife areas in 2004 and submitted it to the European Commission. If in 2004 some Polish officials decided that the habitats and species in the area near Augustów are so valuable and seriously threatened that EU funds are needed to preserve them, is it reasonable now to try to build a road there? Whenever ecologists propose an alternative route, politicians answer that changing the plans means wasting too much time. But they seem to have enough time for legal battles in EU courts.

  • 18.
  • At 09:48 AM on 31 Aug 2007,
  • Poldek wrote:

Joinig EU made some really bad things to Poland. First of all is that property prices soared absolutely crazy (50% up during one year, 300% in some regions during three years), but not salaries. So most of young people have no chance in their lives to have a decent accomodation.
But it is one of few advantages of Polish integration with EU - that when local government is thying to do something short-sighted, then there is one more instance to appeal for a broader view.

  • 19.
  • At 09:52 AM on 31 Aug 2007,
  • Tony Park wrote:

The EU should be able to tell Poland what to do, to the same extent that it can tell other EU countries what to do.

In this situation, the EU should recognise that the needs of humans should outweigh the needs of short clawed eagles, even if there only 100 short clawed eagles.

As an EU citizen, I do not find the continued existence of short clawed eagles in some bog in Poland that enriching. I am sure that the people of Poland would find improved infrastructure very enriching.

In all cases, the equation should be about benefit to humans. In some cases, this may be to take the environmentalist route.

But in the case of Poland, where obviously improved road infrastructure is going to bring huge benefits to the populace, including reducing road and pollution related deaths of humans, there does not seem to be much of an argument.

  • 20.
  • At 10:01 AM on 31 Aug 2007,
  • Sam wrote:

If the EU is putting up some or all of the money, then they should have a veto on the project.

If they aren't it's a lot more complicated, but Poland should listen to the opinion of the other EU countries who oppose them, I'm sure Poland doesn't want to cause too much of a fuss, especially as they didn't win many friends when negotiating the EU treaty.

  • 21.
  • At 10:20 AM on 31 Aug 2007,
  • Szymon wrote:

This case is not about the EU 'telling' Poles what they should do.

Poland has accepted to obey the European legal order and if the road in the Rospuda valley goes agains EU regulations than it is simply illegal.

  • 22.
  • At 10:34 AM on 31 Aug 2007,
  • Rid wrote:

With regards to the EU's right to tell Poland where to build its roads, it's like asking:
Does a parent who will be paying for his child's university studies have the "moral right" to tell him where/what he should study ?

  • 23.
  • At 10:40 AM on 31 Aug 2007,
  • Peter wrote:

Well, considering that the EU is paying for the roads it is not unreasonable that it should have a say on its environmental impact.

The dreaded EU regulations anti-europeanists fear so have been an extremely important force for conservation in many smaller European countries, backing local environmental groups against short-termist policies by governments with little concern for such matters.

  • 24.
  • At 11:05 AM on 31 Aug 2007,
  • Nick wrote:

If the road is being built with EU money, then of course the EU must have a say in how that money is spent. If the Poles want to spend their own zlotys concreting over their own wetlands, I may regret the environmental impact, but I must surely respect their sovereign right to do so.

Cue predictable EU-bashing! Surely a good way of looking at this is that if the ECJ wasn't available to the likes of the envirnonmentalists Mark talked to above, then the Polish government would be able to build the road without anyone else having any say?

This is an example of the institutions of the EU sticking up for the little guy, and not of the "Brussels bureaucrats telling us to eat straight banananas" cliche that eurosceptics always like to bang on about.

  • 26.
  • At 12:10 PM on 31 Aug 2007,
  • Mikey wrote:

I think it's ridiculous to even entertain the idea that a bypass can be built there. I was in the area a few weeks ago and to destroy this wonderful piece of land would be idiotic.
It's becoming clearer and clearer that Poland is in no fit state to govern itself.

  • 27.
  • At 12:11 PM on 31 Aug 2007,
  • Joe wrote:

So who did the Germans steal the wealth from ? Mostly, from their own sinews, and mostly after the war ended. Yes Poland went through hell (no, the term WW2 explains it a lot better than the term hell), but so did Germany. And then Germany picked itself up from the ruins. Poland is doing that now, and what surely doesn't help the process is asking questions like the one on the cover of that Polish magazine.

  • 28.
  • At 12:15 PM on 31 Aug 2007,
  • chris wrote:

Driving in eastern europe is always challenging, and the rules unclear. Reading your blog remined me of the following. Receently, driving in Slovakia towards the Polish boarder on a two lane road we had a lorry, in its lane, a lorry in my lane and a car in the narrow hard shoulder all traveling down hill at high speed towards us. At least the horse and cart moved over into the field !

  • 29.
  • At 01:00 PM on 31 Aug 2007,
  • Shane wrote:

The EU has a right to tell Poland where to build its roads when EU money is being spent on them. If Poland doesn't like that it can leave the EU, not accept any more development money and make these decisions for itself.

  • 30.
  • At 01:07 PM on 31 Aug 2007,
  • Elzbieta wrote:

Rezczpospolita Nr 200 lists 350 strategic projects. These investements includenew highways, airports, railroads to be built till 2020.

Competition and biding will heat up as time goes on.
Chinese construction companies will be completing their 2008 Olimpics projects. There is a talk in some regions of Poland about bringing Chinese construction companies.

  • 31.
  • At 01:19 PM on 31 Aug 2007,
  • Michael Hall wrote:

If the EU are doing the paying then I guess they should be able to say how and where the road should be built. If Poles want it somewhere else then let them pay for it from their own internal budget and if that was the case the EU should stay out of the situation.
The EU is getting too big for its boots and needs a good kicking, but if it is paying, probably with UK tax payers' funds then it should have a legitimate say

  • 32.
  • At 01:19 PM on 31 Aug 2007,
  • Victor wrote:

How about this:
I run a huge (mighty) road-construction company. I have made a major contract with a Government of ...(put a country you like - or dislike ;).
I formally start construction or preparatory work - whatever is meant in the contract to be the official starting point. Then I PAY somebody to call the "activists" of ... (put any organization you like) to take every action to stop/delay/ prohibit the construction work from being continued.
Thanks to the contract arrangements my INCOMES are ensured - the factor causing any delay is independent from me. I do not need to do ANYTHING and that Government has to pay (huge) fees for all that delay.
And that "activists"' organisation has an universal applicability to any project you want, as well as no limitations, as far as its financing sources are concerned...
Sure, such a story may happen in my (sick) fantasies ONLY, doesn't it?

  • 33.
  • At 01:24 PM on 31 Aug 2007,
  • SB wrote:

My instinct is to say it's none of the EU's business and they should leave Poland alone to do as it pleases.

However - Poland did sign up to the EU and all the rules and regulations that entailed. They knew joining the EU would entail following EU rules on all sorts of things, including the siting of roads, and they agreed to join nonetheless.

Also you don't make it clear (and you really should because it's a vital fact, I'm disappointed at what seems a basic journalistic oversight) but is the EU funding or part-funding this project? If so, they are using EU money and so cannot really object if it comes with strings attached. If they disagree, they can always turn down the money and use only Polish money to pay for the project.

If you want full independence to run your country as you like, you cannot join the EU. Simple as that.

  • 34.
  • At 01:30 PM on 31 Aug 2007,
  • John wrote:

EU law should apply between countries and not within countries. Decisions on purely internal matters that do not affect other countries in a negative way should be taken by elected national officials who have both a democratic legitimacy and superior local knowledge

The tendency of the EU to interfere in the democratic process of its members is one of its worst flaws. Any EU Constitution worth voting for would prevent this happening by making clear that democratically determine national law is superior to the EU law determined by unlected Commissioners or the "politicians in black robes" at the ECJ. But the so-called ‘Reform treaty’ does the opposite by extending the undemocratic ‘community method’ into 50+ new areas.

  • 35.
  • At 01:36 PM on 31 Aug 2007,
  • martyna wrote:

Answering the question asked in the article above in my opinion YES the EU should have the right to get involved in Rospuda valley issue. I believe it's nothing like interfering in affairs of a sovereign member state. This problem is not a local Polish problem. The number plates of all these heavy trucks crossing Poland heading towards Lithuania, Estonia etc. show how much international this problem really is. Infrastructure progress and protection of natural environment these are the matters which should be close to all of us and should be discussed on international level.
Although presonally I am against this investment to continue there according to its plan I realise Poland needs road infrastructure desperately (I can see it every day communting to my workplace by car). I live in this country and I've been to Augustow and by the lakes there many times on holidays, so I feel I know what I am saying: we all should think twice and if neccessary discuss this issue with international community to find the best option, before it's too late.
This area there is really unique, and absolutely worth to look after it.
When there is a contructive international debate it can only help the problem to be solved, but obviously it's about people's attitude whether they can use it in a constructive way or not.

By the way all these massive lorries heading towards Lithuania should go by trains that's how I can see things.

What I really would like to see is a wise decision made now and many people from around Europe enjoying their time by the lakes in Poland in a future.

best regards
Martyna, Katowice, Poland

  • 36.
  • At 01:38 PM on 31 Aug 2007,
  • Pat wrote:

The EU seems to think that they have the right to tell any of the member nations how to govern themselves. Makes you wonder if it is really worthwhile to strive to become a member. I thought the original intention was to establish an "economic community"? Seems more like one big government now...........

  • 37.
  • At 03:31 PM on 31 Aug 2007,
  • Rafal Felbur wrote:

Dear all,
The trick is, Poland could just as well use an alternative project for the highway bypass.
(And this itself can be discussed even with no reference to the issue of the EU and its influence on local politics.)
The greens may be loons sometimes, but now they are square right: they don't oppose the construction of highways, just not there.
Suppose you have two investment options, both with equal economic benefits and return prospects etc., but one destroys a unique habitat while the other minimizes damage; which one do you choose?
The answer is obvious (unless you have a vested private incentive to choose otherwise; see "corruption").

  • 38.
  • At 03:35 PM on 31 Aug 2007,
  • Rainer wrote:

First of all - EU's money is money collected from EU members (also Poland), therefore discussion about "whos money" is meaningless. The Natura 2000 project has been criticized by other new members, because the EU rules are based on the ecological situation in old member states (where wildlife is basically 100% destroyed). It means, that after joining the EU in some countries Natura 2000 areas are almost everywhere. In the joining process local authorities agreed with almost everything that Brussel demanded, because the rush to become a member with whatever price was blinding. I find myself quite "green", but the Augustow case is exaggerated. It is necessary to have a discussion over such a delicate project and as it seems from the bridge project, the engineers have given their maximum to provide minimal ecological impact.

  • 39.
  • At 04:39 PM on 31 Aug 2007,
  • Sudha Shenoy wrote:

1. Why don't the environmentalists _buy_ the peat bog & put it into a trust? Then it'll be safe from roadhogs.

2. There has to be an alternative route for the road. Since it's mostly heavy lorries who'll use it, they can be charged a fee. Remember turnpikes in England? That was how they operated. And govt officials can get their cut,too, from the fees.

  • 40.
  • At 04:57 PM on 31 Aug 2007,
  • John wrote:

Those in Britain who think the EU has a right to interfere in this Polish road because it is providing money should remember that the EU also interfered in the M3 Winchester bypass on environmental grounds despite not providing funding. This despite 20 years of environmental impact studies that took place before this section of the M3 was approved.

The question should be why can a supranational organization interfere in a matter that is of no concern to anyone outside the country in question? If this was environmental pollution that could be carried by air from one country to another country then perhaps the EU might have some point in getting involved. But it should never be allowed to overrule democratic decision-making on a purely internal matter.

  • 41.
  • At 05:27 PM on 31 Aug 2007,
  • Derek Tunnicliffe wrote:

As you say,Mark, it's easy to see both sides in this. You don't say if the environmentalists have come up with an alternative. If so, that should form the basis of an agreement - with EU arbitration if needed. As someone has remarked - the EU court is there to listen to the little guy and to come to an unbiased ruling. Governments too often think they have absolute power to run rough-shod over anyone who objects.

  • 42.
  • At 05:35 PM on 31 Aug 2007,
  • Brad Vrabete wrote:

It's funny to watch the comments: the Brits are against it because, since EU says it, it must be bad. And most of the Poles are for it. I wonder who's right...

But even the Brits, if they were to put aside for a short while their obsession with EU being a bad thing, can realize that keeping something unique in Europe and make the road go around that area is not such a bad thing. Plus, one has to remember, a good chunk of the money for Poland's infrastructure will be coming from EU. Really, even if the road will be say 20 km longer, most likely if will still be faster than the current situation.

  • 43.
  • At 06:23 PM on 31 Aug 2007,
  • Paul wrote:

Someone mentioned that a lot of the traffic is transnational, i.e. using Poland as a bridge. In addition to upholding the rules (i.e. those involving Natura 2000), more progress is required in using other means of transport for long distance freight. If the US, the home of the free trucker, can thrive with trailers and containers on its railways, I think Europe ought to be able to do the same; some of the distances involved are comparable, so they should be economic, not to mention more environmentally sound.

  • 44.
  • At 07:19 PM on 31 Aug 2007,
  • MW wrote:

If I remember rightly, there was a local election in the area not that long ago. At the same time there was actually a referendum on the question of the road through Rozpuda. Furthermore, if I remember well very, very, very few people took part in this referendum i.e. not many people actually voted for the bypass!!!

  • 45.
  • At 08:17 PM on 31 Aug 2007,
  • Simon Wates wrote:

To me it is very simple: No need for anyone to get radical about this - it is obvious that this site has very high natural values that would be seriously affected by the flyover in question. It is also obvious that we humans have lost so much through bad-planning that could have been avoided. Of course the road should go ahead but should be re-planned to avoid this beautiful place - after all man can build roads but he cannot build birds, plants or natural habitats - we owe it to ourselves to plan with our environment at the forefront. Ecologists are NOT idiots with a grudge to bear against human development - they just call for thought for the future.

  • 46.
  • At 08:51 PM on 31 Aug 2007,
  • Miroslav Hustak wrote:

Thanks God that the EU exists and that it can interfere with the internal matters of the sigle EU provinces, sorry, EU members... The communist-style governments of the new EU states would otherwise ruin the environment - they are even worse than the past communist rulers as far as the environment is concerned.

  • 47.
  • At 09:37 PM on 31 Aug 2007,
  • Marcel wrote:

Brad (37): the EU has become a bad thing. It was originally presented as something which was exclusively economic, but covertly they've been building a supergovernment (note: not superstate) which has now too much power.

It must be stopped. All political integration must be undone because there is neither a mandate for it, nor popular support.

And Brad, another thing. The money does not come from the EU, it comes from the memberstates who are being robbed by it.

All laws must always be decided 100% by a nations own politicians, not by unelected foreigners.

  • 48.
  • At 09:59 PM on 31 Aug 2007,
  • Alan wrote:

I think that as an oganisation, the EU should not under any circumstances interfere in member states.

How can the French, or the germans or even us have the right to tell any other country what to do.

i think that we do not need the EU as much as Gordon Brown thinks

  • 49.
  • At 10:40 PM on 31 Aug 2007,
  • Karina wrote:

I sympathise with the people of Augustów in that they shouldn't have to suffer lorries tearing through their town at 80km/h, but there are a couple of points worth taking into account:

1) where are the traffic police to stop these trucks going so fast and threatening the lives of the locals?
2) why was it that there was no other alternative route proposed for the bypass? There are plenty of other places a bypass could go, but I fear that certain 'dignitaries' would have lost a tidy sum in backhanders were an alternative route to have been proposed.

As for the EU's role in all of this, yes, it is interfering far more than it would have done in years gone by, but back then the environmental movement was far less influential. You can't blame the EU for trying to step in where it has been asked and where European law gives it the right.

I personally think that it's great that the Polish environmental lobby has found a way to get its voice heard, because it won't be heard in Poland. Let's hope that other Polish groups see the light!

  • 50.
  • At 11:17 PM on 31 Aug 2007,
  • Michael wrote:

If the lorries are the problem why don't they build the bypass many kilometers away from the town Augustow and the beautiful Rospuda valley? They lorries aren't stopping in Augustow, they go from central Poland to the Baltic countries and Finland. Have the town done everything possible avoid traffic, have they built local bypass roads or congestion zones?

  • 51.
  • At 12:53 AM on 01 Sep 2007,
  • BRIAN FOWLER wrote:

Poland should have joined the USA as its 51st state rather than the EU. Poland asserts the legality of its citizens to come freely to the UK, France, Germany etc..and work under EU law. But when the tables are turned....well, KEEP OUT!!! Make up ya mind dear Poland, in or out? (I'd prefer the UK out myself, but that's beside the point.)

  • 52.
  • At 02:16 AM on 01 Sep 2007,
  • Elzbieta wrote:

As I was searching for answers about viability of railroads I found project Rail Baltica.
For those interested in more concrete information I recommend listening to
or googling more entries for Rail Baltica.

Also, in a daily Polish press (Puls Biznesu Nr 166, Rzeczpospolita Nr 200), in August of this year I found very detailed info on EU contributions
with illustrations showing location of key investments.
A full list will be published in Monitor Polski.

It is a matter of time and things should get much better. Rospuda controversy is on the crossroads
between old planning and new requirements.
Plans were made and approved years ago before Poland became EU member. If EU money are to be used for this investments it is clear that a new plan should be considerd or Poland can do what Austrians did. Pay a hefty penalty and go ahead with an old construction.
By the way can someone LIST OF CONTROVERSIES between local citizens and EU requirements in OTHER EU COUNTRIES. Why not to look at this conflict with another (EU) perspective.

During my visit to Rospuda folks in a brigh yellow vests with badges "Nature Protection Officer" were guarding section of the forest. Their mood was that the current situation is temporary and construction will go ahead as planned.

  • 53.
  • At 03:05 AM on 01 Sep 2007,
  • kris wrote:

Bring in the Vogons! They'll just do it... It's a bypass. You've got to build bypasses...
But seriously. I think that EU has a valid reason to put pressure on any of the member countries to protect the environmentally sensitive areas. On the other hand, the change of plans and redesign of this road will take time and money, and people in Augustow need something done NOW, before their roads will fall apart and their houses crumble because of the increased traffic. So who will pay for this change?

  • 54.
  • At 06:33 AM on 01 Sep 2007,
  • Mick wrote:

It doesnt matter what happens to this area, Im sure the UK will end up paying for it.

  • 55.
  • At 08:06 AM on 01 Sep 2007,
  • Patrick wrote:

Augustow has a resident population of about 30000 (not 3000) with several million visitors per year (without the lorries). Eastern Poland in general does not have the roads to deal with the lorry traffic. There are no motorways. Roads are mostly single carriageway with rare streteches of dual. The country needs central planning for a national good. It is hard to understand why a town council has responsibility for the country's main roadlink to the East. The present government has supported both sides of the argument which is surrounded by much conspiracy theory. Maybe the next government will be able to contribute to finding a legal, environmentally acceptable and lasting solution to this urgent problem.

  • 56.
  • At 09:04 AM on 01 Sep 2007,
  • roman wrote:

Dear Sir
As one of the few British nationals living in this area, it is interesting to see how polish democracy is shaping up. a summary of facts not subjective opinions.
1.Will the proposed bypass form part of the via baltica. If not then the Polish goverment is proposing building a white elephant.
2. The British firm of consulting engineers , Scott Wilson was employed by the ministry of transport to carry out an evaluation of potential Via baltica routes. This report is about to be published but the polish goverment is very reluctant to publicise the results. The final analysis shows that the via baltica will go north of augustow and therefore all heavy goods traffic will avoid this town, also the route will not cut through environmentally sensitive areas.
3. let us bear in mind that if the bypass goes ahead in its present form , polish tax payers will pay for the whole scheme, if the s.w. option is adopted than the E.U. will pay a major contribtution.
4. Most traffic accidents in poland are caused by polish drivers who are probably one of the worst in Europe.
5. Traffic calming measures nd increased safety of pedestrians has never been an issue that has been addressed by the local authorities in Augustow. There are no pelican crossings nor footbridges, these measures could have been implemented many years ago and many lives would have been saved.
6.The terms environmental protection and nature protection do not easily fit in with the present strategy of development all costs. Sustainability is a alien concept.
The majority of the people in the town are not aware that there exists a further option, the local press also do not report this, manipulation by local politicians has turned this issue into a crusade against the E.U. yet this tourist town over the last few years has received large grants from the E.U. to improve its infrastructure.
The arguments that the local authorities present are therefore misleading and dangerous.
Let us all hope that this young polish democracy starts maturing at a quicker rate.

  • 57.
  • At 11:12 AM on 01 Sep 2007,
  • mike wrote:

The Rospuda valley conflict about crossing what is a 19th century man-made peat bog, is symptomatic of infrastructure development problems being faced across Poland. As a new EU member with an unacceptably primitive, underdeveloped and dangerous road network (highest number of human road deaths in the EU) with very old two lane roads as the main transit links from the Baltic States, Russia, Byelarus and the Ukraine, the local human populations have a major human environmental and safety problem. Unfortunately, at EU entry in 2004, Poland was forced to declare Nature 2000 protected areas. These were, through incompetent local State bureaucrats, done "very broad brush" without taking into account new road and rail routes, something the experienced governments such as the French, Spanish, German and UK, avoided with ease. As a result, Poland is now locked into a formal/legal EU sanctified "stay in the 19th century" infrastructure plan as the building of any new road or rail line will be completely blocked by environmental "concerns". There are over 3000 Rospuda type situations in Poland which has only 600KM (400 miles) of dual carriageway in a country with 14 million cars and the size of Spain.Its a no win situation. I live in Warsaw. Its the only capital city in Europe that doesn't have a ring road so all transit traffic thunders through and jams the city. Imagine Paris or London Brussels or Berlin without their ring roads. Attempts to build such a road are constantly blocked by local "not in my back yard" environmentalists as it would have to go through wooded areas which surround the city. Over 25% of Poland is covered in wild forest and lakelands/peat bogs and the percentage is increasing as poor agricultural land is being returned to forest. New, modern, safer roads are desperately needed but where can they be put WITHOUT causing SOME environmental damage? It all relative. The solution chosen for Augustow is that which causes the LEAST damage. The Rospuda valley is over 200km long. It has to be crossed SOMEWHERE. Environmentalists from outside NE Poland have proposed a route which was rejected as it went through virgin forest elsewhere (which would have to be cut down) and was 18km longer (which itself causes environmental damage). What are 38 million people to do? All migrate to the UK, France, Germany, Ireland and other western countries which have modern infrastructures and the luxury of choice in terms of which area to strictly protect, thereby leaving Poland as a gigantic wild nature park for tourists? At the end of the day a rational, balanced decision serving the interests of both local human and non-human populations will have to be taken.

  • 58.
  • At 12:45 AM on 02 Sep 2007,
  • Adam M wrote:

I look at google maps at the area concerned. Being from Canada, the area in question is infinitesimal! There are roads everywhere around the darn place! Why not just upgrade some of the roads that are already in place, avoid the town altogether and go around the nature reserve?

You only have to upgrade the 664 and 665 towards Raczki and do a tiny 300m bypass by Raczki. And maybe build another small addition from 8 to 664.

The addition adds maybe another 5-10 km to the route. It is *crazy* to build this bypass at such an expense, screw the unique habitat to save 5 kms.

  • 59.
  • At 02:11 AM on 02 Sep 2007,
  • Nikolas wrote:

"Does the EU... have a moral right to tell Poland where to build its roads?"
A moral right, is it?

Forgive me if I'm mistaken but, as far as I know, Poland is PART of the EU. The EU is not some vague external entity trying to intervene in Poland's internal affairs. Poland became willingly part of the Union and by doing so it took the obligation to apply European law, just like every other EU State.

The Commission, in fact, is legally obliged to enforce the law and minimize environmental damage in a protected area. The European Commission is the guardian of European law and it has the obligation to intervene when State governments violate it. If anything similar happened in my area, I would be protesting against the Commission because it didn't act earlier, when the road was still at planning stage.

It's astounding how nationalism prevents people from seeing the obvious. It is time for people to realize there are rules in the EU, and the rules are valid for everyone. The "I do whatever I want in my country" mentality has not place in the Union. A member State's internal affairs are , in fact, internal affairs of the Union. And it is even more so when we talk about issues of wide public interest, such as environmental protection.

Finally, regarding environmental protection, doesn't one need an Environmental Impact study before starting the building of a road? I would be really interested to read the study for the Augustow bypass and see what it says about the impact on the protected area. I suppose that, if available, it would be only be in Polish...

Thank you.

Nikolas Tilaveridis

  • 60.
  • At 07:47 AM on 02 Sep 2007,
  • Koen wrote:

Well, I am happy to hear that the European Commission defends this non-economic interest. If people in Poland complain about this interference: Well, you cannot have it both ways. Membership comes along with huge EU subsidies and other economic benefits. The other side of the coin is that you do have to accept some minor interference and pressure to compromise.

  • 61.
  • At 05:29 PM on 02 Sep 2007,
  • Anthony wrote:

This is actually a somewhat complex problem of Poland's making (or rather should I say the Polish governments making).

First of all the road infrastructure of Poland and particularly eastern Poland is bad considering the amount of traffic. Quite a lot of people from the Podlasie region, where Augustow is, consider that they are in 2nd class Poland when it comes to investment and infrastructure.

Then there is the fact that the Podlasie region is an area of outstanding natural beauty. It is called the Green Lungs of Poland and is home to several national parks.

It doesn't take a genius to spot the conflict of interest here...

Back to the by bypass it has been planned since the mid-1990's (when the volume of traffic was a lot less than it is now). If there was enough of a problem back then I dread to think how bad it is now.

If the government had put it's hand in its pocket it could of built the road long ago. But it didn't, it decided to wait and use European money to partially fund the scheme.

Trouble is they forgot that they'd signed up to various EU laws for protection of the environment (did they really imagine the EU would be happy to fund something that breaks its rules?).

Then there is the increase in raw material and labour costs (because of the number of Polish builders going to the UK). So chances are it will cost them more (even once you include inflation) to build the road now than it would of 15 or so years ago.

So in the end the government of Poland only has itself (and previous administrations) to blame for the mess it is in now. Poland - nice country shame about the government.

  • 62.
  • At 06:22 PM on 02 Sep 2007,
  • Chris wrote:

I actually drove through this area twice recently. It's very beautiful, but IMHO the area to the west of Augustow, the Mazurian lakes, is even more amazing.

Augustow's problem is that three routes join there - from Warsaw, from Bialystok and Eastern Poland, and from Gdansk and the North - all converging into the only highway into Lithuania and the Baltics, and any bypass has to pick up all three routes. It was this last route I drove along eastbound, and it was both stunning and frightening. A stunning drive through the Mazurian lakes. Frightening, because at times it deteriorated to what was no more than a country lane, and I was terrified I'd meet a convoy of HGVs on an impossible narrow and broken-up section. (But other sections - around Olsztyn and Elk - had been rebuilt and were fine.) The roads were so shoddily built in the first place that their usual condition is two deep grooves a lorry-width apart, and you end up forced to drive as if on a camber with your wheels in one of them (preferably the verge side one) but it's not always practicable. Normal steering practice can be hazardous. Many East European drivers are crazy, overtaking in near-impossible situations. Roadworks can cause hours of delay, so no wonder the preferred solution is to build entirely new roads. In fact, the town to the north of Augustow - Suwalki, the border town - has a perfectly seviceable bypass to its east.

The Polish govt would probably prefer to have a road network centred on Warsaw and Lodz. The EU would prefer them to have through routes connecting the rest of Europe with the Baltic, ignoring Warsaw. What they're stuck with is a network that features an upgraded version of the autobahn network that Hitler built to roll his tanks down, when Western Poland was part of Germany, so that the country's chief motorway runs from Krakow towards Berlin. Meanwhile the road between Warsaw and Krakow, the new and the old capital, is terrible. That between Augustow and Warsaw is no better but at least quieter.

I wonder whether the Via Baltica is any solution. Parts of this - the dual carriageway between Kaunas and Siauliai for instance - are fine, but others are frightening. In northern Latvia and for another stretch in Estonia this main road is also the only possible route for cyclists and farm vehicles! Where rebuilt it's a single carriageway - in good condition, yes, but that only encourages more crazy overtaking. I don't know where the route of the Baltica southwest of Augustow is supposed to go.

As to the improvement of rail links, there is a catch. The depleted Baltic countries' network is essentially part of the old Soviet network, with more expresses to Petersburg, Moscow and even the Ukraine than anywhere else. The only route linking these countries to the rest of the EU (without transiting Russia or Belarus) meanders south from Kaunas with a change from broad to standard gauge on the way. There is a direct and straight route from Warsaw to Vilnius, but that passes through Belarus (you need a transit visa acquired well in advance or get thrown off the train) and that route is I believe broad gauge throughout. If a standard-gauge route to Tallinn were built, as is apparently mooted, a decision would have to be taken as to how much of the rest of the Baltic states' network would have to be converted to standard gauge. Not much in Estonia or Latvia I'd guess, but there's a problem in Lithuania in that the preferred route via Kaunas and Siauliai is also part of the country's main trunk route between Vilnius and Klaipeda. But they can't convert that whole route because the section through Vilnius and Kaunas is part of the transit route between Russia proper and Kaliningrad, broad gauge of course, and if the Russians were denied this facility they'd probably send all their heavy freight by road instead! It's all very problematic.

I don't claim to have a solution. Like most people I'd prefer that if there's an alternative route that avoids this fragile landscape, it should be used, but is that one a practical route for the Via Baltica? And looking at the map, I can't see how a route through the Mazuria could be built without destroying at least some valuable habitat. Unless - we persuaded the Russians to let us build a motorway and rail link through the Kaliningrad enclave and then not require their month-in-advance transit visas for those who stick to the route?

  • 63.
  • At 08:16 AM on 03 Sep 2007,
  • Alan wrote:

Border towns make alot of money from the cross border traffic. If Augustow regulated the heavy truck traffic to certain hours of the day it could manage. As for EU inferference either Poland is in the EU or it's not. It cannot make rules that suit only Poland. Don't like? Then get out of the EU and see how soon the peasants get angry, they've made plenty of money from this EU. Likewise the ONLY reason roads are being built is because EU money is funding it anyway. The only changes that I've seen over the past twenty years is since Poland joined the EU. It only got money (borrowed) to buy useless F16s which, do nothing for the Polish infrastructure. But that was to satisfy the needs of Big Brother US. So... why not dump the EU and go for the US as a permanent partner. After all Poles have visa free access these days er... don't they! Freedom to work in the US Hmmm. Oh yes and free health care and child benefits. Oh yes it's Utopia!

  • 64.
  • At 01:16 PM on 04 Sep 2007,
  • Duncan wrote:

I have been going to Poland for the last 6 years. I would be one of the first to agree that there has been a huge jump in the amount of traffic, and there is a need to get a better infrastructure. I have lost count on the amount of time I have risked my life walking next to the main road and being hit by several trucks. (The only place you can walk safely in the more rual areas is the hard shoulder!! There is more chance of not being run over walking in the middle of the road where my In-Laws live.) The problem is that Poland is Europe's Nature Reserve, where rear species live or migrate to, so alot of the area in my view needs protecting. I know people where my In-Laws live will say "I remember when storks etc lived here before the houses were built" but thought turning the area into a small town.
I know people will complain if the the storks were driven away by construction of all kinds - Its considered good luck if one lands on your house. Likewise if the eagles were to be driven away. It is on the administrative flag afterall! I was excited when I saw a White Tailed Eagle of the coast of Gdynia this year, no one else cared, but I'm sure they would if it were to go. Likewise with Common Cranes outside of Lebork.
Yes infrastructure needs to be improved and when it comes to roads, constructions of motorways, by-passes, dual carriage-ways are important.I'm looking forward to the Gdansk to Lebork road having a by-pass so i don't have to dice with death ever tiem I go out. However, preserving places like the Augustow Forest and surrounding area are also important. There is no reason why these roads cant be built but consideration to the surrounding area also needs to be addressed.
Its a catch 22 situatation and it even happens here in the UK.

  • 65.
  • At 03:39 PM on 04 Sep 2007,
  • Bernard wrote:

Marcel (47): If you think the EU was a purely economic project from the start you surely haven't been paying any attention. The EU -and it forerunners- were political in nature. Or is trying to prevent war between France and Germany not a political goal?
That said: even trade is political, alwahs has been and always will be.

Micheal (51): Heh, if anything the American federal government has a lot more to say about what happens in individual states than the EU has in regards to its members.
The US Feds can rule unilaterally, they don't need the approval of their states. In the EU nothing gets done without consultation of the memberstates.

Sometimes the ignorance encountered about the EU is mindnumbing.

  • 66.
  • At 01:04 PM on 05 Sep 2007,
  • Vaida wrote:

After reading Mr Mardell's story I was pretty disappointed that he doesn't mention anything about possible alternatives to the project, reasons why it took local municipalty almost two decades to plan and start to build the bypass and why they insist on builing it through the protected valley.

To my mind, it is totally wrong way to put people's lives against orchids' while telling this particular story.

By doing so you could go on forever.

Alternatives, beureucracy, mere ignorance and possible corruption in Polish roads administration is what i would like to know more about...

Sitting outside on a cafe terrace in Manila, on a lovely tropical evening, trying to enjoy a meal through choking clouds of car and tobacco smoke -it recently occurred to me that our policies are completely wrong:

Instead of forcing smokers out of (public) buildings -cars and smokers should all be forced to remain indoors (with windows closed). Then, more sensitive people can enjoy the natural pleasures that these selfish junkies are destroying. Only underground roads and indoor smoking should be permitted.

Efficient public transport and town planning is the civilized way to deal with these things. Car ownership destroys the health and quality of life of driver, passengers and the other innocent people who do not own cars. If cigarette smoking can be banned in public places -then burning petroleum products should be banned too. Passive smoking of petroleum products is far worse than passive smoking of tobacco -and yet apparently accepted by many people as above criticism. How is this possible?

Perhaps UKIP knows the answer to this: Nanny mega-state/country-called-Europe probably shouldn't deny individuals their right to smoke petrol, tobacco, coke -or each other if they wish to. Perhaps no village should ever be prevented from building any road anywhere it wishes -even if it doesn't connect up with other local villages. Local economies don't need coordinating infrastructures -and basically we should all wallow around in the mud until some commercial company can sell us something that doesn't work but makes us feel good as we slowly sink into oblivion.

Or should we perhaps concider how to rationally solve the problems posed in creating a rail link described by Chris in *62? It does rather sound as if some regional coordination might be necessary.... If the EU didn't exist -it rather looks as if somebody would need to invent it.....

  • 68.
  • At 11:25 AM on 06 Sep 2007,
  • Richard wrote:

Chris 62, good info in your post. I would say roughly the same if I had the time.

I can say more on two problems. The Baltic state railway systems are not only directed to Moscow, but also at tranporting Russia's freight to the Baltic ports. Eurostat stats highlight that they are the most feight dependent systems in Europe.

Passenger tranposrt is minimal, consisting of expresses to Russia and suburban services which few upwardly mobile residents of Tallin, Riga or Vilnius would want to take. There is little pressure for investment in rail because no influentail people in the country (businesspeople, polticians etc) travel by train. This is wrong, but that is how it is.

The Car is king in thos citites, witness the terrible traffic.

Intercity trains (eg Vilnius-Klaipeda or Riga-Daugavpils) are slow and infrequent compared to the bus, and have been stopped on lined such as Riga-Ventspils.

Only Vilnius-Kaunas had an hourly or two-hourly service, but the bus is still more frequesnt, faster and more importably cleaner and more comfotable.

Lastly, there is no regular passenger between Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius. Your have to take the Eurolines bus.

The single Lith/Pol rail link is comical. Do they still open and shut a gate over the track to to let through the daily two-coach train between Sestokai and Suwalkai (they did in 2001 when I last took it.)

But the real problem facting Lat and Lithy, which is linked to Augustow, is that most road freight from Europe to Russia now goes through Augustow and the two Lith/Pol border posts.

Transit freight that used to go through Belaurs now goes through Lith and Latvia, bypassing the shambles of a customs system in Belarus, never mind its transit fees.

  • 69.
  • At 02:16 PM on 06 Sep 2007,
  • Mirek Kondracki wrote:

"I am part of the protected area nature 2000: I am demanding protection! - A Human".

What an appropriate warning!

About 10 years ago we had a case in Oregon when ecoterrorists unable to prevent a rational wood harvesting in local woods after painstaking research "discovered" that they were a habitat for the spotted owl, a protected species. Harvesting has been prevented which resulted in wild
fires of woods which should have been thinned to prevent just such a calamity. And since then spotted owl has become proverbial and perennial but of jokes.

  • 70.
  • At 08:42 PM on 06 Sep 2007,
  • Rob wrote:

I don't know much about environmental laws in Poland and/or the EU, but here in the US, we have a process for this. I myself am employed in my state to review permit applications for this very thing: roads going through wetlands. Environmental assessments are analyzed, and alternatives are researched and considered. If all other possible alternatives are impractical, then we will issue a permit for a road to go through a wetland. However, it doesn't end there. Minimization of impacts are throughly scrutinized. (For example, the slopes along the roads can be steepened. Also, particularly vulnerable areas can be bridged over instead of filled.) Conditions are added to the permit to protect water quality as much as possible. (Such as treatment of stormwater and runoff from the road.) Finally, mitigation is required. For every acre of wetland impacted, the department of transportation must replace it with two acres someplace else. Again, I don't know much about European water quality laws...but this is certainly a process that addresses the needs of both sides of the issue and it usually works quite well here. It increases the price of these roads, obviously....but it's worthwhile.

  • 71.
  • At 01:22 AM on 10 Sep 2007,
  • Martin wrote:

I actually travelled along road No 8 through Augustow last night on a coach from Vilnius. Augustow (I have been there before)is a very beautiful place, a tourist centre, full of lakes and forests and mires.

There really is a TIR problem on that road and in that town - particularly at night when our coach went through. But there is an alternative to the road proposed across Rospuda (I have not seen the plans but I suspect much of it is in effect widening a stretch of the existing road plus a section of bypass). The Polish Government signed up to protecting the area which is apparently of major biological interest (simply replacing it with new wetland, which may be very uniform, is no compensation). The alternative will destroy more houses - but houses can easily be rebuilt in a quieter area (indeed their cost would be a pinprick in a project of this magnitude).

If the Government had accepted earlier what it would have to do in the end - the local residents would not be suffering for so long - either from noise or, for those to be displaced, from the uncertainty before they move in to their new homes.

Pity really.

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