Call for more EU co-ordination on forest policy

There is no need for a common EU forestry policy, stakeholders have agreed at a conference in the European Parliament. However, more co-ordination between European and national levels is needed.

A round table discussion between policymakers, industry and NGOs in Brussels on 20 September agreed that more EU coordination was needed on forestry policy. Participants agreed on the need to preserve the delicate balance between the multiple roles fulfilled by forests (pulp and paper production, furniture, protection of biodiversity, climate change mitigation).

EU forest-based industries today face a number of challenges due to globalisation:

  • Increased competition from countries with lower environmental standards, cheaper labour and lower energy prices;
  • increased demand for wood and forest products, including biomass and biofuels;
  • illegal wood imports and environmental degradation, and; 
  • lack of coordination on these issues, especially regarding other policy areas affecting forestry (agriculture, energy, environment, R&D).

The debate took place only days after Greenpeace published the results of an investigation, accusing Finland of importing illegal timber from Russia. In allowing this trade, Finland is effectively acting as “a clearing house” and an “accomplice in forest crimes”, Greenpeace said.

According to Greenpeace, the investigation showed the need to adopt EU-wide legislation to ban illegal timber and to ensure that all products on the European market actually originate from responsibly managed forests. The existing EU licensing scheme for timber is purely voluntary, Greenpeace pointed out.

Packaging and paper manufacturers said they are doing all they can to make sure that only legal timber is used. The Alliance for Beverage Cartons and the Environment (ACE)  – which counts Tetra Pak and StoraEnso among its members – says the industry is already “spending millions” to ensure that the wood fibre it uses can be traced and verified by independent third-party investigators.

“If evidence shows that illegal timber has been detected, ACE members will take appropriate action immediately,” ACE said in a statement. However, wood certification schemes often vary with different countries adopting different definitions of sustainability. “The ultimate goal is that everything we use will be sourced from sustainably managed forests,” says Mario Abreu form Tetra Pak which claims 94% of its fibre is certified. “However, that remains a somewhat aspirational goal,” he concedes.

The World Bank estimates the annual global market value of losses from illegal logging at over US$10 billion, and annual losses in government revenues of about US$5 billion.

Pekka Pesonen, state secretary at the Finnish ministry of agriculture and forestry, considered that the EU's biggest challenge on forestry was improving co-ordination between the Commission's own departments as well between Brussels and the member states. To achieve this, Pesonen said that the position of the Council's Standing Forest Committee needed to be strengthened to cover all forest issues: "For member states, it is crucial to be informed and to be able to influence EU decisions affecting forestry". However, he insisted that the policies remain national. "We have various approaches on forest policy," said Pesonen. "If we were to adopt common rules, we would almost certainly contradict these policies."

Pesonen was supported in this view by Hilkka Summahead of unit in charge of overseeing the EU Forest Action Plan at the Commission's agriculture directorate. "The EU does not have competences in forestry policy", stressed Summa. The action plan, she insisted, is "not a legal document", does not "establish new policies" and does not modify the 1998 EU Forestry Strategy. It therefore does not impose new obligations on member states and the forestry sector, she said. Rather, it is "an expression of common intentions" by member states in trying to achieve a sustainable and competitive forestry sector.

However, Summa admitted that more co-ordination was needed and announced that special coordinators were being appointed in the Commission's different directorates to this aim. An implementation road map will be adopted by the end of the year, Summa indicated.

Heinz Kindermann MEP (PES, Germany) said that forests were currently underused, pointing to the fact that total forest areas were growing in Europe. He called for a diversification of activities for forest owners, such as biofuels production and underlined the need for a common definition of forests to be adopted at European level in order to achieve more transparency.

On 15 June 2006, the Commission adopted a five-year action plan to improve the competitiveness of the European forestry industries. The plan aims to strike the right balance between the multiple functions of forests (economic, ecological, tourism).

  • By end 2006: Commission to adopt implementation roadmap for EU Forest Action Plan

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