The battle over where to route the Vienna-Helsinki road through eastern Poland had become a metaphor for how seriously EU environmental legislation would be taken in the 12 new members of the EU who have joined since 2004, and whether the EU would allow its own funds to be used for projects it was responsible for protecting.
The Commission had already taken legal action to ensure the Polish government gave full consideration to alternative routes, but until last month it was not clear what the outcome would be.
Then on 24 March, the Polish prime minister Donald Tusk announced a different route for the road that will still relieve the town of Augustow of heavy transit traffic but leave the Rospuda marshes largely untouched.
Environmental groups described the decision as ‘a major victory for the environment, for Polish and European law, and for the general public interest.’ But they are still preparing to fight several more battles along the Via Baltica route.
Malgorzata Gorska of OTOP (Birdlife Poland) said: ‘South of Rospude there are already advanced plans on building express roads through three more major Natura 2000 sites – the Knyszyn Primeval Forest, the Biebrza Marshes and the Augustow Primeval Forest. More European money is being sought for these projects, even though the developers are reported to be ignoring strategic assessments which suggest viable, less damaging alternative routes exist.’
The Augustow by-pass will now be built near the nearby village of Racski.