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The ‘wooden curtain’ prevents a European forest convention

12.11.2013

EFI’s Deputy Director Marc Palahí gives a personal view on the recent breakdown of negotiations on a Legally Binding Agreement on Forests in Europe.

Europe needs a forest convention that recognises and implements the principles of sustainable forest management (SFM). The rapid, political, environmental and socio-economic changes taking place at global, European and regional levels are increasing the demands and expectations on European forests and the services and resources they provide. However, the absence of a coherent and ambitious European forest policy framework makes it difficult to ensure that our forests, forest owners and the forest-based sector deliver goods and services with the highest value for our society based on the principles of SFM. The coordination of policies and targets affecting European forests is urgently needed.

The Legally Binding Agreement on Forests in Europe offered an opportunity to start building a more comprehensive framework for coordinating forest-related policies (also at EU level), and a legal basis for implementing the principles of sustainable forest management. But a European forest convention is not yet possible. The most recent session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-Forests4) on 7-8 November ended without an agreement. This was mainly because of deep divergences related to the institutional arrangements of the convention (adoption, administration and servicing). After more than a year of intense negotiations, it’s a pity, as the ‘forest’-related principles and articles had been agreed upon.

But we shouldn’t see it as a waste of time, it’s an investment, and an investment that all of us need to capitalise on. Let me explain why. I have been following the process as an ‘observer’ (EFI has been part of the secretariat for the negotiating process). My personal feeling (this is not an institutional statement) is that a pan-European convention is not yet possible. The parties have not yet found the ‘third alternative’ that such a forest convention arrangement requires, and which would make it a win-win solution. I think a ‘wooden curtain’ still exists in Europe, mainly (but not only) because of a lack of trust between the EU and the Russian Federation. This lack of trust was reflected during the INC negotiations by a general ‘low’ level of communication characterised by defensiveness, protectiveness and often legalistic language. In a way, the process ended like it started, centred on institutional divergences and not on the important principles (sustainable forest management) that the convention was aiming to recognise with a legal instrument. But sooner than later, in my view, a European forest convention will come as it is in the interest of all parties. However, a transformational solution needs to be found and that requires ‘synergy’ among the parties. Synergic solutions can only be based on trust. Therefore, we need to build trust; large amounts of trust at different levels will be needed during the coming years.

In addition, the international organizations who were involved in one way or another in the process should also undertake some deep reflection, as we need to be part of the solution and not part of the problem. From our side, I can say that EFI will emphasise through our research and policy support activities the need to break the existing wooden curtain, to build a wooden bridge that overcomes the existing policy and institutional fragmentation regarding European forests. Our society deserves an agreement.