EU forest strategy branded ‘weak’ and ‘aspirational’

Stakeholders respond to the new EU commission strategy for Europe’s forests. Kayleigh Lewis reports.

More than 40 per cent of the EU is covered by forests and other wooded land. These areas provide not only key renewable resources, but bring benefits to both society and the economy, while also proving vital for the conservation of nature and being central to the existence of many rural communities.

In September, the European commission adopted its new forest strategy, which aimed to address the political and societal changes that have occurred in the 15 years since the adoption of the current strategy in 1998. The updated version aims to strengthen sustainable forest management and improve competitiveness and job creation. The strategy also looks at setting up a forest information system to enable EU-wide information to be collected. In addition, the commission recognises the need for a holistic approach, and has emphasised the importance of forests in the fight against climate change.

Speaking following the commission’s adoption of the strategy Dacian Ciolos, EU agriculture and rural development commissioner, said, “Forests are key ecosystems, as well as a source of wealth and jobs in rural areas, if they are managed in a proper way. Sustainable forest management, ensuring the protection of forests, is a key pillar of rural development and it is one of the principles of the new forest strategy”.

“Forests are key ecosystems, as well as a source of wealth and jobs in rural areas, if they are managed in a proper way”

With European forest week just around the corner, the Parliament Magazine asked representatives of the EU’s forestry industry and NGOs to share their opinions on the strategy. Bernard de Galembert, forest and innovation director at the confederation of European paper industries, said, “One big merit of the forestry strategy is its mere existence. It sends a strong signal that forests, and the goods and services it delivers to society, are seen as important by European policymakers.” He added, “Over the coming year, it will be important to see to what extent the identified strategic orientations will be implemented, in particular the cumulative cost assessment that will allow us to measure the impact of Europe’s regulatory arsenal on the competitiveness of the sector, but also the recognition of the cascading use principle that gives priority to the creation of the most value and jobs out of the very envied material which is wood.”

Katarina Molin, director general of the alliance for beverage cartons and the environment (ACE), also spoke favourably of the strategy, saying, “ACE supports the European commission’s emphasis on sustainable forest management to move beyond legality and set the basis for a more equal playing field for sustainable resource management across industry sectors in Europe. In line with our global traceability commitment, we would like to see the EU forest strategy develop practical measures and clear milestones.” She continued, “Credible forest certification schemes should be used as one important tool for turning the new strategy into reality. We look forward to supporting the EU forest strategy in achieving tangible outcomes by sharing our members’ global experience on responsible forest management.”

“Credible forest certification schemes should be used as one important tool for turning the new strategy into reality”

Although environmental NGOs broadly welcomed the strategy as a step in the right direction, they remain concerned about its implementation. Anke Schulmeister, senior forest policy officer at WWF’s European policy office, said her organisation “believes that the new EU forestry strategy can potentially address some of the critical aspects related to forests and forest management. Satisfying the growing appetite for raw materials and energy is a significant challenge and we need real and credible efforts to balance social and environmental aspects with economic pressures. The strategy also acknowledges that the EU’s consumption has implications on forests outside the bloc which have been underestimated or ignored for years. However, she also expressed some reservations, saying, “An EU strategy is one of the weakest types of instrument. It has no real power, no legislative muscle and is not legally binding. Therefore it remains to be seen how member states will implement it to make it more than just aspirational intent.”

“An EU strategy is one of the weakest types of instrument. It has no real power, no legislative muscle and is not legally binding”

Ignacio de la Flor, forests and bioenergy campaigner at Fern, also had concerns, saying, “The new forest strategy should be welcomed for its positive elements, but does not go far enough to be able to achieve its laudable aims. It promotes the sustainable consumption of forest products and the need to look at what can be sustainably supplied, and raises important concepts such as resource efficiency and cascading use, but there is no action plan to make positive changes happen.” “It is not clear about how the multiple demands on forests will be balanced or how expanding policy objectives related to forests will be coordinated. Its lack of legal power will also hinder its implementation which presently depends on nothing more than member states’ willingness,” he concluded. It’s now up to the European parliament and member states to ensure that the strategy has the teeth it needs to deliver the much-needed sustainability of Europe’s forests.

 

Written for The Parliament Magazine.

Posted on December 2, 2013 in News, Politics, Print

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