Austrian forestry and the European Union
Forestry as a whole is not a part of the Acquis Communautaire of the EU, but certain important aspects of protecting forests are addressed.
These topics are addressed by a number of Community policies of the EU, in particular by the EU environmental policy, the Common Agricultural Policy, the EU trade policy, and the EU energy policy, to name a few. Any implementation of policies concerning the forestry sector are done in accordance with the framework of the rural development policy, although it must be noted that, in 1989, the Standing Forestry Committee was set up as a consultative committee for the European Commission.
EU Forest Strategy
The Council, on 15 December 1998, passed a Resolution entitled the Forestry Strategy for the European Union, which created a framework for the implementation of policies designed to promote sustainable forestry. It was based on the coordination of Member States’ forest policies and the Community’s policies and initiatives in the field of forestry. In this resolution, the obligations the Community and its Member States have in important international processes is strongly emphasised- in particular regarding the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) and follow-up conferences such as the Ministerial Conferences on the Protection of Forests in Europe (MCPFE) held in Vienna (2003) and Warsaw (2007).
The strategy emphasises the importance of multi-functional forests and sustainable forest management for the development of society, and highlights key components regarding their implementation. It clearly states that forest policy falls under the responsibility of individual Member States to implement, however, in compliance with the principles of subsidiarity and shared responsibility, the EU can also contribute to the implementation of sustainable forest management via Community policies. The strategy also re-affirms the implementation of international obligations, principles and recommendations concerning national or regional forest programmes and underlines the necessity of improving communication and cooperation in all fields of policy, relevant to the forestry sector.
The EU Forest Action Plan
The EU Forest Action Plan aims to provide a concrete frame for the implementation of the EU Forest Strategy. The Action Plan focuses on four objectives:
1) improvement of long-term competitiveness;
2) improvement and protection of the environment;
3) raising the quality of life;
4) promotion of coordination and communication.
The EU Timber Regulation
On 11 October 2010 the EU Council of Ministers adopted Regulation no. 995/2010 of the European Parliament and of the Council laying down the obligations of companies who place timber and timber products on the market (EU Timber Regulation).
Since March 2013, when the Regulation came into force, it has been prohibited to place illegally harvested timber, and any products made from it, on the European market. Companies who place timber and timber products on the European market for the first time are now obligated to exercise due diligence.
This due diligence system includes access to information on the type and source of timber, as well as ensuring that the timber and/or timber products comply with all relevant European legislation on the trade of wood-based products. Further, a risk assessment must be completed and risk mitigation procedures must be undertaken, in order to comply with the obligations of due diligence. To allow for greater traceability on the European market, traders must also be able to identify, for the past five years, the suppliers of both timber and/or timber products, in addition to the individuals or companies they are supplying.
The EU Timber Regulation applies to a long list of products, such as but not limited to roundwood and wooden furniture, and pulp or paper, although not to any form of printed matter However, if any timber products, or any of its components, are made using recycled timber, then they are excluded from the scope of the EU Timber Regulation.
The Regulation targets imports from nations where illegal logging is suspected to occur, as well as all timber imports from non-EU countries without any significant risk of illegal logging. This Regulation also applies to domestic forest owners who have placed their timber on the European market for the first time.
It must be noted that, while the latter countries are not viewed as having a high risk of supplying illegally acquired timber, an exemption to the regulation was not possible due to the primacy of conforming to the regulations on fair competition set out by the WTO.