Europe’s forests and forestry sector provides our economy with a multitude of benefits, ensuring good quality of life, as well as sustainability, jobs and added value.
Employing over 3.5 million people, the forestry sector is Europe’s third largest employer, sitting directly behind the metal and food industries.
Over 450,000 forest-based businesses contribute seven per cent to EU GDP while only 60 per cent of annual new-grown wood is felled.
Wood is a resource of major economic significance in rural areas. The careful maintenance and management of forests by businesses and over 16 million forest owners ensures that forests are able to sustainably fulfil their ecological, economic and social functions.
More than 50 per cent of Europe’s forests are privately owned. Sustainable forest management means ensuring the long-term protection of forests for future generations.
This was the overall concept at the UN environmental conference held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 – “Sustainable development meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs and choose their lifestyle.”
It was with guidance from these figures and concepts, that I prepared my report on the European forest strategy.
In doing so, my constant concern was to further strengthen forests and the forest-based sector in their social, economic and ecological roles, and to focus on wood as a sustainable raw material and an important resource for Europe.
I am very pleased that the constructive forces within the European parliament prevailed and a large majority of the house supported this uniform approach, ensuring a clear commitment to sustainable use.
Considering the fact that many European policy areas, such as energy, environmental and climate policy have an impact on the management of forests, I believe it is essential that the new EU forest strategy includes a focus on better coordination.
The forestry sector and forests must be better placed within the different European strategies so that practitioners’ expertise can be better utilised.
My work also meant making sure there were no new bureaucratic constraints for forest owners and managers. The parliamentary majority in favour of a clear separation of forest management plans and the plans of Natura 2000 – an EU-wide network of nature protection areas – is a clear rejection of the shifting of public obligations on to private forest owners.
Parliament’s report also makes it clear that the criteria for sustainable forest management must constantly focus on the same sector – regardless of how the wood is finally used.
Anything else would be uneconomical, lead to excessive red tape and would be pure planned-economy madness.
Sustainability criteria serve as a seal of quality for our forestry sector and don’t follow a ‘one-size-fits-all’ list of criteria due to the heterogeneous nature of European forests.
Therefore, parliament explicitly supports the preliminary work as part of Forest Europe – the pan-European political process for the sustainable management of the continent’s forests – focusing on proportionality and practicality.
In the interest of better coordination, we were able to place special emphasis on research and development. With its downstream industries, the whole forestry sector can benefit enormously from new, efficient production opportunities and product ideas.
The potential for innovation and the further development of the bio-economy and sustainable use of raw materials are not just drivers of growth and jobs, but also a help in the fight against climate change.
Finally, I would like to emphasise once again that parliament has dedicated itself to implementing the new EU forest strategy with as little bureaucracy as possible, which will strengthen the forestry sector and bring no new obligations.
We need the European commission to set real priorities – and these must be growth, employment and investment based.