MEPs balance economic and climate issues in bloc’s new forestry strategy –

MEPs approved on Tuesday 13 September the new EU forestry strategy for 2030, which aims to strike a balance between the economic, social and environmental aspects of sustainable forest management.

Read the original article in French here.

Following a hot summer that led to burning forests, drought and pests that led to the disappearance of the EU’s ever-decreasing forest area, the European Parliament’s position on the forest strategy of the Commission for 2030, proposed in July 2021, was eagerly awaited.

“Forests are essential for providing both ecosystem services and jobs in the EU. Only active, sustainable and dynamic forest management will enable their resilience and successful adaptation to climate change,” reads the own-initiative report adopted in plenary with 417 votes for, 144 against and 67 abstentions.

The Commission’s debated proposal calls for forest restoration to meet the EU’s 50% reduction target by 2030 and climate neutrality by 2050, as set out in the Green Deal and EU Strategy. EU on biodiversity. It also proposes to plant three billion more trees in the EU by 2030.

Since its inception last year, the proposal has sparked lively debate, particularly in the wood sector which accounts for 20% of manufacturing companies in the EU.

On November 15 last year, EU agriculture ministers adopted the Commission’s proposal, but criticized the EU executive for ignoring the “multifunctional role of forests, reduced to environmental considerations”. .

Ministers also called for the strategy to involve forest owners, forest managers and Member States, with management remaining a competence of Member States.

Multifunctionality, decentralization

Parliament’s own initiative report responded to these criticisms by taking into account the environmental, social and economic aspects of forest management.

The text recalls that forests can provide ecosystem services, but also jobs – on which the report indicates that the impact of the Commission’s environmental measures “has not yet been sufficiently assessed”.

“Forests are multifunctional and we must ensure that all these functions are respected,” explained rapporteur Ulrike Müller (Renew) to MEPs in Strasbourg.

“We must therefore have a balanced and responsible management,” she added.

Lawmakers have also called for better decentralization of efforts to national, regional and even local levels due to forests, climatic conditions, ownership patterns and forms of governance that differ from region to region.

The new strategy also gives forest owners a central role.

“We need to build on local experience to best manage forests, we need to have a bottom-up approach, in cooperation with owners,” said the rapporteur. This is particularly true for ‘smallholders’, who represent the majority of the 16 million owners in the EU, she added.

“Support schemes, voluntary payment schemes for ecosystem services and funding for research should be made available, especially for small-scale loggers”, Parliament explained.

In the own-initiative report, the legislators also called on the Commission to set up a coordinated forest monitoring, data collection and reporting system to enable Member States to draw up their strategic plans for forests and the sector forest.

Interference and financing

The economic importance of forest management reform was reiterated by some MEPs.

“Let’s be ambitious for our planet and pragmatic from an economic point of view,” said Conservative EPP MEP Anne Sander, citing her region, the Grand-Est, as an example, where the forestry sector provides 55,000 jobs.

But according to conservative MEPs like the Spaniard Mazaly Aguilar (ECR), the strategy does not sufficiently take into account “socio-economic aspects” because “the role of forests is reduced to ecological considerations alone”.

The report was, however, welcomed by the Confederation of European Forest Owners (CEPF), which represents national organizations of forest owners in Europe.

“Unlike the Commission’s proposal”, it “takes a balanced approach to sustainable forest management”, CEPF said. in a press release.

On the Left and Green side, however, lawmakers have warned of the risk of overly exploitative forest management.

“Lobbying by the forestry sector and Nordic member states has led to the withdrawal of nature and biodiversity friendly forest management proposals,” German Green MEP Thomas Waitz wrote on Twitter.

Other MEPs criticized the strategy for not taking into account national or even regional interests, and for using Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) money.

“The Commission is trying to introduce a single strategy, it does not take into account the differences between forests”, declared Gilles Lebreton (ID), recalling that the EU treaties require States to take “measures which must be proportionate and limited”.

“This interference is intended to be financed by taking money from the CAP [Common Agricultural Policy] budget. I am opposed to this, farmers do not need to be put in a worse situation by reducing the budget allocated to them,” he said.

Parliament’s report indeed states that “the CAP and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) are the main sources of support for forestry measures”, these two instruments representing 90% of all EU funding for the forestry sector.

Still, Müller praised Parliament for its “particularly constructive” efforts which have led to 526 amendments since the Commission presented its proposal more than a year ago.

The ball is now in the court of the Commission and the Member States, which according to the rapporteur of the report “must give foresters and forest owners the means to implement these four elements in their economic and ecological work”.

[Edited by Daniel Eck/Nathalie Weatherald]

Teresa H. Sadler