43 European states negotiate binding legal framework
The representatives of 43 European countries – the 27 EU member states plus the European Commission, Russia and other non-EU European countries – have begun negotiating a legally binding agreement on sustainable forest management in Europe. The Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) is holding its first round of talks from 27 February to 2 March in Vienna. It will put together a draft framework agreement that will be examined no later than 2013 by an extraordinary ministerial conference, based on a very detailed mandate adopted at the sixth ministerial conference on forest protection, in Oslo in June 2011.
By signing up to the Oslo ministerial mandate on forests in Europe in 2020, all the European countries accepted the objectives for 2020: to implement national forest programmes; include climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies in their forest programmes; put in place measures to increase the socio-economic and cultural benefits of forests; assess the total value of ecosystem services provided by European forests; give greater account to these services in relevant national policies; reduce biodiversity loss from forest habitats by at least 50%; and fully recognise the role of forests in fighting desertification
The participating countries also agreed to draw up a legally binding agreement on forests in Europe. The mandate (1) adopted to this effect sets up an International Negotiating Committee (INC) charged with drafting this instrument. The mandate states that, although this will be a legally binding agreement, it must be flexible enough to meet the specific needs of each country. It also asks negotiators to take into account other international agreements on forests and to keep in mind the possibility of placing the agreement under the auspices of the United Nations. The mandate also states that the framework agreement must address the following issues: sustainable management, conservation of forest resources, forests’ resilience to natural hazards and human-caused threats, the loss of biodiversity, the development of forests’ cultural and social functions, and the contribution of forests to climate change mitigation and combating desertification. The timber trade, research and cooperation are also identified in the ministerial mandate as possible subjects to be treated.
MEMBER STATES IN SOLE COMMAND
The 27 member states will negotiate in Vienna in their own name since the EU has no common forest policy. At EU level, these matters are dealt with through the agriculture and/or environment policies. The European Commission will also participate as a full member but its role remains to be defined. The fact that there is no real EU competence in this area will pose a problem over the longer term. Once a binding agreement has been concluded, its provisions will have to be transposed into national law. Each member state will be obliged to do so. But what will the Commission do? How can the single market and harmonious implementation be guaranteed without a common forest policy? Will the intergovernmental agreement impose a calendar on the EU by pushing it to define a new EU policy? No one has the answers to these questions for the moment.
The forestry sector supports this initiative in a common position adopted by six professional organisations (2), describing it as “a step forward to create a structure for a coherent pan-European approach”.
(1) The document is available at www.europolitics.info > Search = 309754
(2) Confederation of European Forest Owners (CEPF); Union of Foresters of Southern Europe (USSE); European Farmers and European Agri-cooperatives (Copa-Cogeca); European Landowners’ Organisation (ELO); European State Forest Association (EUSTAFOR) and European Federation of Municipal Forest Owners (FECOF)