Wednesday

17th Jul 2019

Red face for EU officials over pirate timber floor

A painful confirmation by the European Commission that its headquarters contain 1,000 square metres of uncertified wood from the Indonesian tropical forest highlights the problem of illegally logged timber in the EU.

The commission press service on Friday (1 December) confirmed that uncertified plywood was used to renovate the 13th floor - where commission president Jose Manuel Barroso's office and the commissioners' rooms are located - despite Brussels' policy of not using dodgy materials in its buildings.

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The painful confirmation came after a revelation by Greenpeace on the same day, with the environmental NGO's Sebastien Risso stating that "it is appalling to think that commissioners are walking on the debris of one of the most precious forests on earth while leading a prominent public relations campaign on the need to halt biodiversity loss."

"If the European Commission wants to show that it is serious about preventing forest ecosystem breakdown, it must put forward legislation to ensure that all timber products on the European market come from legal sources and responsibly managed forests."

Suggesting Brussels' misstep is unfortunately part of a broader European picture, he added "This story illustrates the extent to which the European market is saturated with illegal and unsustainable timber."

\"A disgraceful fine\"

Commission spokeswoman Valerie Rampi reacted by saying that "We have a strict green policy in terms of technical specifications...that says that the wood used for the renovations of buildings have to be sourced from well-managed forests."

"In this case, those specifications have not been followed and the contractor has accepted to pay a fine of €750," she added, having to repeat the amount of the fine in French after few journalists could believe the small size of the sanction.

An EU official told EUobserver that the fine is so low because the floor area of 1,000 square metres had been calculated in respect of the total value of the project for the Berlaymont headquarters floor area of 80,000 to 100,000 square metres.

"Mr Kallas' cabinet would have liked to donate the money to an NGO, but was unable to because according to financial regulations the money has to be put into the administrative budget of the commission," the official explained.

Greenpeace's Mr Risso told EUobserver that the fine was "disgraceful" and that he would like to see ecological and social damages being included in such future fines to deter contractors and companies from using uncertified wood in Europe.

The commission also said today that it will launch a public consultation on legislative opinion to tackle illegally logged wood in the EU and that it is looking at setting up voluntary partnership agreements with timber-producing countries.

"It is a good sign but also just a very first step," Mr Risso said, adding that the EU "have to hurry up to make a total ban the import and sale of illegal timber."

80 percent illegal

Illegal and unsustainable logging in Indonesia is seen as threatening the habitat of orang-utans and other animals.

At the time of the lengthy Berlaymont renovation works between 1991 and 2004, up to 80 percent of logging in Indonesia was estimated to be illegal, according to Greenpeace.

The Indonesian government has clamped down more strongly on illegal logging since 2005, but the situation remains fragile, and illegal and destructive activities are far from eradicated.

It is estimated that 50 percent of timber sold in Europe is logged illegally. The trade in timber is tainted with corruption, violence, the violation of human rights and money laundering, says Greenpeace.

The cutting down of tropical forests has disastrous consequences for loss of bio-diversity and the global climate system - one of environment commissioner Stavros Dimas' key concerns at the moment.

FSC-certified

Greenpeace is campaigning for the EU to ensure that its own public authorities only procure legal and sustainable timber and purchase Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) - or equivalent - certified wood products.

Only five of the EU's 25 member states - Belgium, Denmark, France, the Netherlands and the UK - require their public authorities to demand the use of FSC-certified wood in public tenders.

In the meantime, Ms Rampi assured that the commission "won't take down the Berlaymont" after its 13 years of renovation. "It has been difficult enough to refurbish it."

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