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Forest and forestry policy between the EU and its Member States

Macro Onida

elni Review 2020, pp. 16-24. https://doi.org/10.46850/elni.2020.004

Trees and forests in Europe have never been centre stage the way they are now. Until a couple of years ago, forest-related concerns of European citizens focused mainly on international deforestation in tropical forests. The aggravation of the double climate and biodiversity crisis has significantly increased European citizens’ interest in the EU forests as irreplaceable carbon sinks and reservoirs of biodiversity. The pressure of public opinion on EU forest policies therefore is on the rise, also due to the fact that the more Europe takes action vis-à-vis third countries’ forest protection, the more its domestic agenda must be effective and credible; a case in point is the news about systematic illegal harvesting of primeval forests in Eastern European states such as Poland’s well-known Bielowieza, Romania (where the murder of official rangers sparked outrage across Europe), and Slovakia, which resonated powerfully. Citizens’ concerns are not ill-founded: European forests, in fact, are generally not in good ecological condition. Recent scientific reports further paint a worrying picture. According to the 2020 State of Nature Report by the European Environment Agency, less than 15% of assessed woodland and forest habitats are favourable, while up to 84% were assessed as unfavourable-inadequate. The EU Joint Research Centre assessment of ecosystems concludes that “the condition of EU forests is poor, and there are serious concerns regarding upward trends of several pressures and degrading condition indicators”. Even the sustainability of current harvesting levels is subject to debate.
Overall, the current intensive use of forests will need to be better balanced against the objectives of carbon sink preservation and biodiversity protection.
This ’greener‘ approach to forests has sparked a heated debate in the EU institutions as well as among stakeholders and NGOs, all seeking to influence in some way the future forest policy of the EU. This debate includes some legal issues.

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