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The future EU Forest Strategy in the emerging forest-related policy framework

21.09.2012


The first ThinkForest dinner took place on 18th September at the European Parliament. It was the first in a new and exciting series of high-level events aiming to bring together European policy-makers, parliamentarians, bureaucrats, stakeholders and scientists to discuss important issues on the European forest agenda. 

The event was well attended, with 10 MEPs (from different countries and political parties), as well as four members of the Council and four members of the European Commission. Eight representatives from important stakeholder organisations, a number of scientists and the organisers were also present, contributing to a new and different spirit of exchange - a ‘ThinkForest atmosphere’. 

The dinner focused on the development of a future EU forest strategy, and its context in a forest-related policy framework. It enabled the process of developing the strategy and the draft document itself to be presented to a broader audience, in order to be able to intake ideas at its earliest stage. Participants were provided with information about the content and process of developing such a draft, as well as the envisaged time plan until its final adoption by the EU institutions. 

The dinner also provided an opportunity to disseminate information about the complex policy-environment of European forest policy – this time emphasising the parallel ongoing negotiations on a legally binding agreement for forests taking place in the pan-European area. This is important as the development of a new EU forest strategy does not happen in a context-free environment. The issues at stake as well as successful moments were sketched out openly, giving dinner participants an inside understanding on what is happening now in the EU coordination as well as in the actual negotiations. 

The forum dinner provided a place for open and free exchange of information, and the presentations triggered a lively discussion among dinner participants, who were able to voice openly their concerns as well as emphasising the strengths of the strategy process. Discussion ranged widely, and it was acknowledged that the development of the strategy should be understood as a collective exercise. 

It was emphasised that lately big forest fires and a lower demand for wood and forest products pose threats that an EU forest strategy should also respond to. An increase in demand for wood could stem from wood construction, which shows great potential, and the development of new products based on research and innovation. However, demands on forests with regards to forest biodiversity and climate change are increasing, and the question of what forests can sustainably supply remains important. 

Ideally forest-related decisions should not all be left to the market or regulated only. On the contrary existing tools and instruments could be used in a new and innovative way (using for example a similar framework as for SMEs), creating a kind of tool kit regardless of who actually has legal authority for forest policy in the Union and the Member States. This said, it was emphasised that European Union instruments such as the bio-economy strategy, resource efficiency initiative, green infrastructure initiative etc. are already available and could be used to make the case for forests and their products. 

As regards the new EU forest strategy, it was also said that there had been calls before for working together to improve instrument effectiveness and establish coherence, but it remained open as to how this could be done. It was underlined that a new forest strategy should be based on previous experiences; learning from implementation gaps and problems in order to avoid them in the future. The strategy should, however, also reflect on the issue of whether there is a common idea of European forests, and if so what the overall orientation is and should be. In addition, the question remains to be answered as to how aims in terms of competence and envisaged targets could be achieved. The inclusion of stakeholders and interested parties in actual forest management and forest use was also addressed. 

More information: Dr. Marc Palahi, marc.palahi @ efi.int

Discussions were based on the Opinion of the Standing Forestry Committee contributing to the development of a new EU Forest Strategy