- Forests presently cover 37.8% of the EU's land area (166 million hectares)
- The forest area of the EU has been increasing in recent years. Finland and Sweden are real "forest countries" with 73.9% and 66.9% of their territories covered by forests respectively. Ireland (9.7%), the Netherlands (10.8%), Denmark and the UK (both 11.8%) have the lowest forest area figures(source: FAO Global Forest Resources Assessment 2005).
- The forest-based sector in Europe employs around 3.5 million persons and has an annual turnover of around 400 billion euros (source: COPA-COGECA).
Benefits of forests:
- Forests serve multiple functions for society. In addition to economic functions such as providing timber (for furniture or other products), resin, cork, plants or food, they have ecological functions (biodiversity, landscape conservation, water and soil protection) and are also important for tourism and the leisure industry.
EU competencies and policy developments
- Forest policy is a competence of the member states but several EU laws influence national forest policies. Therefore, the Commission adopted in 1998 an
EU Forestry Strategy
which underlined the importance of the multifunctional role of forests and the need for sustainable forest management (SFM). In March 2005, the Commission evaluated the implementation of this strategy and proposed to develop an EU Action Plan for Sustainable Forest Management.
Definition of sustainable forest management (from Ministerial Conference for Protection of Forests in Europe, Helsinki 1993): "the stewardship and use of forests and forest lands in a way, and at a rate, that maintains their biodiversity, productivity, regeneration capacity, vitality and their potential to fulfil, now and in the future, relevant ecological, economic and social functions, at local, national, and global levels, and that does not cause damage to other ecosystems".
- In 2004, the EU adopted an EU Action Plan for Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT), which introduces a voluntary licencing scheme to ensure only legal timber enters the EU.
One of the main challenges of forestry policy is to find the right balance between the different functions forests provide for society (the "multifunctionality" of forestry). The renewed interest in using biomass from forests could, for instance, endanger the material resource base for other uses of timber.
Another aspect of forestry policy is that it touches on several other policy areas, such as agriculture and rural development policy, environment and energy policy, industrial and R&D policy or development and trade policy. There is a need to strengthen the coherence between these different policy objectives.
The EU's forestry industry is facing several challenges as a result of globalisation:
- competition with lower-cost producers in developing countries;
- illegal logging
- stronger demand for forest products and services
- climate change
- environmental degradation.
The five-year (2007-2011) Action Plan tries to find answers to these complex challenges and has four main objectives:
- improve the long-term competitiveness of the forestry sector;
- protect the environment;
- contribute to the quality of life;
- and foster coordination and communication on these issues.
The Action Plan defines a framework of eighteen key actions, which should be implemented at EU and Member State level. Most of these actions are rather general ("examine the effects of globalisation on the ... competitiveness of EU forestry" or "enhance protection of EU forests") or reformulate policy actions that had already been defined elsewhere ("promote the use of forest biomass for energy generation").
Several forest-related industries are concerned about the implications of the EU's promotion of biomass from forests.
The Alliance for Beverage Cartons and the Environment (ACE) has raised questions about measures to increase the use of forest resources for energy production. "ACE warns that this should be encouraged only so long as it does not disrupt the economic equilibrium to the detriment of the forest's other roles - in particular, its importance for biodiversity, countering climate change and supplying wood and paper products", ACE stated in a first reaction to the Commission's Action Plan.
CEPI, the Confederation of the European Paper Industries, also warned against the EU placing too much focus on forests as a source of bioenergy. "The value of using wood primarily for energy must be balanced with the value of existing and important contribution wood makes to the environment and the economy when it is used first as a raw material," said CEPI.
A coalition of COPA-COGECA, CEPF (the Confederation of Forest Owners), ELO (European Landowners) and USSE (Union of Foresters in Southern Europe) has urged the Commission to strengthen the competitiveness of the forestry sector. Promotion of the use of wood for energy policy and the elimination of barriers for the use of wood and cork are two of the recommendations of this coalition in the context of the Commission's Forest Action Plan.
FERN, the Forests and the European Union Resource Network, expressed its disappointment with the vagueness of the 18 actions proposed. "Some of them are not even new", the organisation said. It also pointed to the difficulties to balance the economic, ecological and social functions of forests, something which the Court of Auditors also mentioned in a special report on Forestry Measures within Rural Development Policy in 2004.