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Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the ‘Communication from theCommission to the Council and the European Parliament — Reporting on the implementation of the EU Forestry Strategy’
(COM(2005) 84 final)
(2006/C 28/11)On 17 March 2005, the Commission decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee,under Article 262 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, on the abovementioned proposal.The Section for Agriculture, Rural Development and the Environment, which was responsible for preparingthe Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 7 October 2005. The rapporteur wasMr Kallio. The co-rapporteur was Mr Wilms.At its 421
plenary session, held on 26 and 27 October 2005 (meeting of 26 October 2005), the EuropeanEconomic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 97 votes in favour with 1 abstention.1.
1.1 The EC Treaty does not provide for a common forestry policy, nor does the proposal for a new constitutional Treaty.1.2 The European Commission published a communicationon a forestry strategy for the EU on 18 November 1998. On15 December 1998 the EU Council of Ministers adopted a reso-lution on the Union's forestry strategy based on the Commis-sion communication.1.3 The Council identified sustainable management and useof forests as defined by the ministerial conference onforestry held in Helsinki in 1993 — and the multifunctionalrole of forests as key elements of the common forestry strategy,serving as a general basis for action.1.4 Other key principles of the forestry strategy are subsi-diarity, according to which responsibility for forestry policy lieswith the Member States, and the possibility for the Community to contribute to the achievement of sustainable managementand use of forests and the multifunctional role of forests, wher-ever Community-level action can bring added value.1.5 The European Economic and Social Committee issuedan own-initiative additional opinion on EU forestry policy on 9December 1999.1.6 In its resolution, the Council called upon the Commis-sion to report to it within five years on the implementation of the EU forestry strategy.1.7 The Commission issued its communication on imple-mentation of the EU forestry strategy on 10 March 2005. AStaff Working Document is attached to the communicationwhich contains a detailed description of the actions and activ-ities implemented in the context of the EU Forestry Strategy during the period 1999–2004.1.8 The Committee endorses the general thrust of theCommission communication, especially with regard to enhan-cing implementation and improving coordination. TheCommittee believes it is important to implement the Commis-sion's proposed action plan for sustainable forest managementwithout delay.2.
Implementing the EU forestry strategy
Changes in the operating environment
2.1.1 Challenges facing the EU forestry sector and forestry policy have been affected since 1998 by many changes in thepolicy context; the Commission communication highlights EUenlargement, adoption of EU strategic policy objectives anddevelopments in the international forestry and environmentpolicy framework.2.1.2 With enlargement, EU forest area increased by about20 %, forest resources by about 30 % and the number of forestowners from 12 million to 16 million. It is necessary toincrease institutional capacity for promoting sustainableforestry in the new Member States; developing private owner-ship structures and institutional structures present a particularchallenge.2.1.3 At the sustainable development summit in Johannes-burg in 2002 the importance of sustainable forestry was high-lighted as a sustainable development resource and a way of helping to achieve the Millennium Development Goals moregenerally. The summit approved an action plan which isbinding on governments and which included a number of deci-sions relating to forests.2.1.4 The EU forestry sector has had to face an increasingly globalised market for forest products and a highly concentratedforestry industry requiring more efficient timber productionthan before.3.2.2006 C 28/57Official Journal of the European Union
2.1.5 Forests have a significant role and provide many bene-fits for society. At the same time, sustainable use of forests andthe environmental services provided by them have becomemore and more important. In particular the international envir-onment agreements signed by the EU and its Member Stateshave created new challenges for forestry.2.1.6 The Lisbon European Council (March 2000) approveda new strategic goal for the EU, namely to become the mostcompetitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy, capableof sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs andgreater social cohesion. The Gothenburg European Council(June 2001) approved the EU sustainable development strategy,complementing the Lisbon strategy, which requires dealingwith economic, social and environmental policies in a mutually reinforcing way.2.1.7 Many EU policies, laws and measures have a direct orindirect impact on forestry. Their compatibility and comple-mentarity with EU forestry strategy and its implementationhave not been evaluated.2.2
The European Union and international forestry policy
2.2.1 In its resolution, the Council noted in relation to theforestry strategy that the Community should be actively involved in implementing the resolutions of the ministerialconference on forestry and participate pro-actively in interna-tional discussion and negotiations on forestry-related issues, inparticular the United Nations Intergovernmental Forum onForests.2.2.2 In its 1999 opinion, the European Economic andSocial Committee noted that the EU should provide strongsupport for the establishment of a global, legally binding instru-ment for the management, conservation and sustainable devel-opment of every kind of forest, which complies with theforestry principles agreed at Rio. This objective is still relevantfrom the point of view of the internationalisation of trade inforest products, the globalisation of the forestry industry, thecontinuing loss of forests and the need to protect the rights of local populations that depend on forests.2.2.3 To prevent illegal logging and selling of timber, theCommission has adopted the Forest Law Enforcement, Govern-ance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan and a legislative proposalon setting up the FLEGT authorisation system. The Committeeconsiders the prevention of illegal logging and illegal selling of timber to be of utmost importance. Illegal logging causesserious environmental, economic and social damage, andtimber from illegal logging distorts trade in timber products.However, as far as preventing illegal logging is concerned, theemphasis should primarily be on measures that can be taken incollaboration with timber-producing countries to tighten upadministrative processes and improve law enforcement. This isthe best way of taking into account national social factors andinfluences on the living conditions and welfare of communitiesdependent on forests, for example. Particular attention shouldbe paid to protecting original natural forests and their diversity.Clarification of land-use rights is an essential part of efforts toreduce illegal logging. The proposed authorisation scheme doesnot obviate the need to tighten up these measures.2.2.4 The impact of international economic, social andenvironment policy and UN environmental agreements on EUforests and the framework for forestry activities has increased.Under the UN Convention on Biodiversity, an extended workprogramme on forest biodiversity was adopted in 2002. Underthe UN Convention on Climate Change there was agreementon the role of forests as carbon sinks in preventing climatechange. The Kyoto Protocol in particular has presented theforestry sector with both new challenges and opportunities.Sustainable forestry can significantly affect the fulfilment of obligations imposed by international environmental agree-ments. This requires that the EU adopt a coordinated andconvergent approach in international environment, economicand social policy and its own policies, one that strikes abalance between the various dimensions of sustainable forestry and respects the diverse uses of forests.2.2.5 At pan-European level, the Ministerial Conference onthe Protection of Forests in Europe (MCPFE) is the most impor-tant forum for discussing forestry policy, and has been able tocreate an effective framework for promoting forest manage-ment and use which are sustainable in economic, ecological,social and cultural terms.2.3
EU forestry strategy and Member States' national forestry poli-cies
2.3.1 The 4th Ministerial Conference on the Protection oForests in Europe (held in Vienna on 28-30 April 2003)emphasised the importance of national forestry programmes indeveloping cooperation between the forestry sector and othersectors. It was agreed at the ministerial conference that anational forestry programme constitutes a participatory,holistic, intersectoral and iterative process of policy planning,implementation, monitoring and evaluation at the nationaland/or subnational level in order to proceed towards thefurther improvement of sustainable forest management asdefined in Helsinki, and to contribute to sustainable develop-ment.2.3.2 In accordance with the subsidiarity principle, nationalforest programmes are a key means of implementing objectivesof the EU forestry strategy. National forest programmes areholistic and multi-sectoral framework programmes thatconsider the impact of the forest sector on other sectors andthe impact of other sectors on the forest sector. National forestprogrammes can take into account and balance multiple usesof forests and society's expectations of them taking into consid-eration special national features. National forest programmescreate coherence and consistency between national policies andwith international commitments. These programmes should beevaluated to monitor whether they fulfil the set objectives.3.2.2006C 28/58 Official Journal of the European Union
2.3.3 International environment and forestry policy commit-ments entered into by the EU and the Member States can bestbe implemented in the forestry sector by incorporating thesecommitments into national forest programmes.2.3.4 The EU should promote the drawing up of nationalforest programmes, as recommended by the MCPFE, in order topromote sustainable forestry and achieve a holistic approach todeveloping forestry and forestry policy in the Member Statesand the Community.2.4
Rural development policy and forestry
2.4.1 The principal instrument for implementing forestry strategy at Community level has been rural developmentpolicy. During the period 2000-2006, EUR 4.8 billion wasallocated to forestry measures under rural development policy,half of which was spent on afforestation of agricultural landand half on other forestry measures.2.4.2 The Court of Auditors' Special Report No 9/2004 onForestry Measures within Rural Development Policy found thatneither the Commission nor the Member States assumedresponsibility for assessing whether a project contributed to theachievement of the EU forestry strategy.2.4.3 The General Regulation on support for rural develop-ment (No 1257/1999, Article 29) stipulates that support forforestry provided by the Member States under rural develop-ment policy must be based on national or subnational forestry programmes or equivalent instruments. In some Member Statesnational programmes are only just being set up, and they areoperational in only a few countries.2.4.4 The assessment of forestry measures carried out underrural development policy has been hampered by the Commis-sion's lack of data on Member States' forestry measures. Noeffective system exists for monitoring forestry measures in theMember States supported by EU funding.2.4.5 Although a significant portion of funding is used forafforestation measures, no clear operational objectives havebeen set regarding how afforestation measures should bedeployed under the forestry strategy, in particular taking envir-onmental objectives into account.2.4.6 Many Commission DGs and units are involved in theprocedure for approving rural development plans and opera-tional programmes, as well as the approval of forestry measures. The complexity of decision-making has limited theextent to which rural development policy is used in imple-menting the EU forestry strategy.2.4.7 It must also be clarified whether it would be more effi-cient to concentrate EU resources not on subsidising afforesta-tion but on timber market promotion, on reward mechanismsfor environmental services, on research, training and informa-tion, and on rural development measures to secure long-termimprovements in conditions and employment in the forestry sector and in environmental services provided by forests.2.4.8 It must also be remembered that forestry and timber isa market-based industry and part of the open sector of theeconomy. The EU internal market will only function efficiently if competition on the timber market is not distorted by supportpolicy.2.5
Protection of forests and safeguarding the environmental servicesprovided by forests
2.5.1 The practice of forestry should be economically, ecolo-gically, socially and culturally sustainable. Protection of forests,monitoring their condition, repairing damage and safeguardingthe environmental services they provide are important aspectsof sustainable forestry. Sustainable forest use should be safe-guarded by ensuring adequate regeneration.2.5.2 Key objectives for EU forests are to maintain theirhealth and vitality by protecting them from air pollutants,forest fires and other harmful agents, whether organic (diseases,insects) or inorganic (erosion).2.5.3 Some 0.4 million hectares of forest in the EU are hitby fire every year. Forest fires are a serious problem especially in the southern Member States. As well as preventing forestfires, the Community has collected data on fires and monitoredtheir size and causes. The Community has established a frame-work for systematic collection of data on the extent of andreasons for forest fires. This system has been used to assess andmonitor measures taken by the Member States and theCommission to prevent forest fires. EU forest and environ-mental protection cannot succeed unless an effective approachis developed for monitoring and preventing forest fires.2.5.4 The main laws concerned with maintaining the healthand vitality of forests are the plant protection directive, thedirective on marketing of forest reproductive material, and theframework regulation on monitoring of forests and environ-mental interactions (Forest Focus).2.5.5 The Forest Focus regulation establishes a frameworkfor a Community scheme to continue monitoring forest healthand programmes for prevention of forest fires and to developand diversify monitoring systems. The aim is to produce reli-able and comparable data on the condition of forests and onthe harmful factors affecting the Community's forest ecosys-tems.3.2.2006 C 28/59Official Journal of the European Union

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