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17th Oct 2021

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EU diplomats oppose common forest-monitoring rules

  • Finland and Sweden are the most heavily-forested countries in the EU, followed by Slovenia, Estonia and Latvia (Photo: Greenpeace Finland)
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Diplomats from EU states have raised concerns about the scope of the new forest strategy and its implications for domestic competencies, according to draft conclusions, dated on Tuesday (14 September) and seen by EUobserver.

EU diplomats also said that the strategy lacks "strategic vision, objectives, clear definitions" such as those for primary and old-growth forests - falling short on setting out "clear steps in future action".

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The EU forest strategy, presented by the European Commission in July, aims to strike a balance between the importance of forests in the fight against climate change (as carbon sinks) and their role in the renewable energy mix of the bloc (with wood-based biomass).

As part of the strategy, the EU Commission announced a new law for common forest observation, reporting and data collection, to improve information about the state of EU forest- and monitoring-efforts in the context of the Green Deal objectives.

It also proposed to have a strategic plan for forests at a national level, and where applicable, at regional level - similar to those under the Common Agriculture Policy.

But EU capitals have rejected these proposals so far, arguing that they could potentially lead to "ineffective regulations," "increased centralisation," and "additional administrative burden[s]" that raise questions about how national systems and tools would be respected.

"The responsibility for forests lies with the member states and all forest-related decisions and policies in the EU must respect the principle of subsidiarity," reads the document.

Last month, the German and Austrian governments said the new strategy should be "resolutely rejected" because it set outs binding requirements for the member states, undermining their competencies.

"We are clearly against the weakening of the principle of subsidiarity in this area," said German agriculture minister Julia Klöckner.

According to her Austrian counterpart Elisabeth Köstinger, a total of 11 member states oppose the commission proposal as it stands.

Meanwhile, member states have called on the EU Commission to scale up efforts on risk-management related to natural disasters, and to develop "a structured and integrated approach" in this field, according to the leaked document.

This is partly because forest management can, for example, have a direct impact on flood flows.

During a debate in the European Parliament's agriculture committee earlier this month, some lawmakers argued that the strategy was ambiguous and unclear, while others criticised that it did not address the multi-functional role of forests.

For their part, green groups have previously pointed out that the proposal had been weakened by industry lobbyists and some member states.

In the EU, forests account for about 38 percent of total land surface. In proportion of the total land area, Finland (71 percent of total land area) and Sweden (67 percent) are the most heavily-forested countries - followed by Slovenia, Estonia and Latvia.

EU agriculture ministers are expected to discuss the strategy on 11-12 October.

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