New EU Forest Strategy is partly stepping over the competence of Member States on forests, different aspects of sustainability included better than anticipated
European Commission published new EU Forest Strategy on 16 July 2021, aiming for better coordination on forest-related initiatives as well as increasing the cooperation of Member States on forests. The Strategy highlights climate and biodiversity targets, which are important also for Finland. The strategy has evolved towards more balanced version during the preparation by the Commission, leaving however room for improvement in the initiatives to follow. Multiple details in the strategy are stepping over the competence of Member States on forests, and the economic and social aspects present smaller role than other aspects.
Forests and the forest sector are crucially important for Finland: 73 % of Finland’s land area is covered by forests, Finland has over 660 000 private forest owners, forest industry products represent 20 % share of exports and forest carbon sinks cover 30-50 % of emissions from other sectors. Forests and wood-based products play an important role in achieving the ambitious climate targets set by the Finnish government as well as contributing to well-being of the whole society.
Thus, the EU Forest Strategy is very important document for Finland. Finland has emphasized national competence of Member States in various statements, as well as sustainable forest management, which takes all aspects of sustainability into consideration referring to balancing the ecological, economic, social and cultural aspects.
The newly published strategy does not recognize the opportunities of forests to provide economic welfare clearly enough. In addition, the significance of forests as part of the solution towards bio- and circular economy, receives only little attention. The strategy includes several propositions, which belong to Member States’ competence.
-The new EU Forest Strategy has evolved in better direction than was anticipated from leaked information. Unfortunately, the competence of Member States has still not been fully respected. The Commission proposal goes too far into details of forest management and wood markets. However, it is good that the strategy recognizes some elements of economic importance of forests, in addition to environment and climate aspects, which are important. The follow-up work has to strictly respect the competence of Member States and target to even more balanced approach on sustainability, Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Jari Leppä states.
The strategy emphasizes the importance of forests on mitigating and adapting to climate change as well as halting the biodiversity loss. Targets related to climate and biodiversity are also important to Finland, and Finland is taking action to reach these targets. Voluntary protection programme METSO, which is targeted to private forest owners in Finland, is addressed as good practice example in the strategy to enhance biodiversity.
Positive elements in the strategy include highlighting the role of long-lived wood products and wood construction as part of climate solution. Companies and consumers all over the world need also short-lived and recyclable wood products, and bioenergy is responsible for remarkable part of the renewable energy production in Finland and Europe. Leaked version of the strategy proposed minimizing the production of short-lived wood-based products and bioenergy. In the final version, the importance of these products is recognized better, but not fully. Several restrictions for bioenergy use are proposed.
-It is good, that in the end the Commission acknowledged the need for forest management and use of industrial side streams in various forms. However, there is also room for improvement. Wood-based products and wood energy are needed in our daily life and to replace products produced from fossil raw materials and energy. If these products are not produced in the EU, they will be produced outside EU, minister Leppä summarizes.
Market demand for small diameter wood for energy and processing encourages forest owners to manage their forests and especially to perform forest management thinnings. Active forest management is important to maintain forest growth, carbon storage and vitality. This ensures that forests produce also high quality wood, which is needed for long-term products. Wood is directed to proper use by market price, which is more flexible solution than EU regulation on wood bioenergy. Research and development to enhance both long and short-lived wood products towards greater added value is one of the long term focus areas of Finland.
Forest policy belongs to the competence of Member States
Forestry is based on local conditions and knowhow in each Member State and forest policy belongs to the competence of Member States according to the EU treaties. Both Member States and European Parliament expressed this view clearly during autumn 2020. The EU Forest Strategy has been prepared without usual inclusion of Member States in the process. Strategy highlights respecting the subsidiarity principle and Member States’ competence, but in many part it crosses over the competence of Member States.
- Preparation of the strategy did not include considerations of the Council and the Parliament. The published strategy calls for respecting the subsidiarity principle and competence of Member States. We will closely follow, that this will indeed take place. We are prepared to continue the cooperation on forests, but it is pre-conditional that forest policy remains in the hands of Member States. Many details in the strategy refer, that this is not obvious, minister Leppä states.
EU has competence in energy, climate, agriculture and environment sectors, which affect forests. However, regulation on other sectors should not go so far, that it starts to dominate the functioning of other sectors. Regardless, in addition to strategic targets, the forest strategy includes multiple details and guidelines, which anticipate implementation of EU biodiversity strategy, renewable energy directive, LULUCF directive, sustainable finance directive and common agricultural policy.
-Prohibition of clear-cutting is not included in the strategy and EU does not have the authority to set one. The strategy recognizes the definition of sustainable forest management developed by FOREST EUROPE ministerial conference. Continuation of this work must happen in the framework of this cooperation. I am very cautious towards propositions on new definitions and legislative proposal on forest information, minister Leppä comments.
The strategy includes legislative proposal for EU act on forest monitoring, reporting and data collection in 2023. Despite earlier information, the strategy does not include initiatives on EU-level forestry planning, but includes requirement to prepare strategic plan for forests at national level.
The strategy proposes to develop new criteria and indicators for forest management and defining thresholds especially on ecological aspects. FOREST EUROPE ministerial conference has worked already 30 years to develop criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management, together with Member States, Commission, researchers and stakeholders. This cooperation should be continued, and not start a parallel process for EU. Setting the thresholds should belong to the Member States also in the future.
Finland is already advanced in sustainable forest management and efforts continue
Finland is one of the forerunners in sustainable forest management as well as related research. The foundation relies in national forest inventory, which has continued already 100 years. As part of the implementation of the national forest strategy and government climate programme for the land-use sector, dozens of projects are on-going to improve climate, biodiversity and economic aspects of forestry.
The EU Forest Strategy is communication by the Commission, which is not binding for Member States as such. However, it guides the preparation of EU regulation, and it is therefore especially important for forested countries like Finland.
Member States will prepare their views on the strategy during autumn 2021 with the lead of Slovenian presidency.
European Green Deal: Commission proposes new strategy to protect and restore EU forests (Comissions press release 16.7.2021)
- Marja Kokkonen, Senior Ministerial Adviser, tel. +358 0()29 516 2444, forename.surname(at)mmm.fi
- Elina Warsta, Ministerial Adviser, tel. +358 (0)29 516 2102, forename.surname(at)mmm.fi
- Matias Kallio, Special Advisor to the Minister, tel. +358 (0)50 471 4505, forename.surname(at)mmm.fi
- Teppo Säkkinen, Special Advisor to the Minister, tel. +358 (0)50 516 2868, forename.surname(at)mmm.fi