Austrian forestry and the European Union

Photo: BML / Alexander Haiden

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 round­ wood 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.