EU forestry explained
The European Union has close to 182 million hectares of forests covering 43% of its land area and these forest areas are one of Europe's most important renewable resources. EU forests are exceptionally diverse, with a large variety of forest types, characteristics and ownership structures. They provide multiple benefits for society and the economy whilst being a major source of biodiversity. Additionally, they are a key resource for improving quality of life and in the creation of jobs.
These societal benefits are why the EU supports forestry; in particular, it does so through the common agricultural policy (CAP). The EU also plays a role in helping EU countries to coordinate their approaches and to tackle the problems faced by forests, such as climate change. This coordination support is provided through the EU forest strategy.
Financial support for forestry in the CAP
The CAP provides financial support to rural areas and EU countries can choose to fund forestry measures through their national rural development programmes. These measures are aimed at protecting the forest, making it more resilient to climate change, safeguarding its multiple functions, including the provision of environmental services, as well as supporting investments, innovation and training to the benefit of the rural economy.
In the forestry sector, these measures can support:
- afforestation or creation of woodland;
- new agroforestry systems (where trees and agricultural crops or pastures occupy the same land);
- prevention of forest damage caused by fires, natural disasters or catastrophic events, and restoring damaged forests;
- climate resilience and environmental value of forest ecosystems;
- investments in forest technologies, mobilising, processing and marketing of forest products;
- land management contracts for forest-environment-climate services and forest conservation;
- conservation and promotion of forest genetic resources.
As part of its commitment to ensuring that public money is used effectively, the European Commission has evaluated the impact of forestry measures carried out through rural development programmes. The findings from this evaluation can be used to inform future policy.
The EU forest strategy
The EU forest strategy 2014-20 was developed to provide a coherent framework for both EU forest-related policies and the national forestry policies of the individual EU countries. It was developed by the Commission in close cooperation with EU countries and stakeholders.
The strategy aims at promoting the concept of sustainable forest management, which aims to safeguard and achieve the balanced development of the multiple functions of forests and efficiency use of resources. This concept should underpin the role of forests in serving several EU priorities, including:
- EU rural development policy;
- environmental and climate policies (especially biodiversity and climate mitigation);
- the provision of ecosystem services (such as clean water and air, or control of erosion);
- provision of sustainable growth and jobs in rural areas (such as production of clean renewable energy and bioeconomy supplying bio-materials).
The EU forest strategy focuses its attention on eight main priority areas:
- supporting rural and urban communities;
- fostering the competitiveness and sustainability of the EU’s forest-based Industries, bio-energy and the wider green economy;
- protecting forests in a changing climate whilst promoting sustainable forestry management to mitigate against climate change;
- protecting forests and enhancing ecosystem services;
- strengthening our knowledge of the forests the EU has and how they are changing;
- developing new and innovative forestry and added-value products;
- working together to coherently manage and better understand forests;
- focussing on forests from a global perspective, including the conservation of non-EU forests.
In addition, the strategy underlines the importance of national forest policies taking EU level policies into account.
EU forest MAP
The multi-annual implementation plan (Forest MAP) of the EU forest strategy provides a concrete list of measures to ensure a coherent approach to the forests and forest-based sector. It will run from 2015-20.
It specifies those involved and the required timescale for the different measures. Additionally, it sets out the expected outcomes of these measures.
It is structured according to the eight priority areas of the EU forest strategy and provides specific actions and target dates for each area.
Cooperation and expert advice
The standing forestry committee
The standing forestry committee (SFC) has a three-fold role:
- it acts as an advisory and management committee for specific forestry measures;
- as ad-hoc consultation forum that provides expertise in connection with the development of forest-related initiatives in the framework of various EU policies, such as those on rural development and the environment;
- it provides a space for the exchange of information amongst EU countries, and between EU countries and the Commission.
The SFC has members representing the EU countries whilst the Commission chairs the committee. Members of the committee are nominated by the governments of EU countries.
The civil dialogue group on forestry and cork
Civil dialogue groups are composed of non-governmental organisations. At a minimum, these all operate on a European wide level.
The topics for discussion by the civil dialogue group on forestry include:
- the EU forest strategy,
- rural development policy,
- the biodiversity strategy and Natura 2000,
- the challenges and opportunities for society from the bioeconomy,
- the 2030 climate and energy package,
- climate change adaptation and forest protection,
- implementation of the EU timber regulation,
- follow-up of Forest Europe and UNFF global and regional processes,
- communication on forestry issues and products.
The EU is signatory of Forest Europe, which brings together 46 European countries (not all of which are EU countries), and the EU at ministerial level, to promote cooperation on forest policies and develop common approaches on how to protect and manage them.
Research and innovation
The EU is committed to innovation in all sectors of the economy and forestry is no different.
The Commission's approach for research and innovation in agriculture and forestry sets out to:
- foster and share knowledge throughout the forestry sector;
- harness new techniques and technologies that can be used in forest management;
- encourage social innovations that enable rural communities to contribute to the future of forestry.
Facts and figures
EUROSTAT maintains a large body of data concerning European forests and forestry.