EUTR evaluation: Council adopts conclusions
On 28 June 2016 the Council adopted conclusions on the evaluation of the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) and the FLEGT action plan (Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade). The conclusions highlight the positive contribution that these instruments have made in reducing EU imports of illegal timber and increasing the awareness of the general public and market operators about the issue of illegal logging.

The conclusions call upon member states and the Commission to do even more to tackle this phenomenon, with a view to achieving sustainable forest management globally. It underlines that further efforts and adequate resources are needed from Member States to step up implementation and achieve effective and a more coherent application and enforcement of the EUTR throughout the EU, in particular with a view to ensuring a level playing field and effective controls throughout the internal market.

The European Commission report on the functioning and effectiveness of the EUTR (COM 2016/074), published in February this year, already shows that there are significant discrepancies in terms of implementation and enforcement across the EU, and still remains incomplete. The report recommends that Member States should significantly step up their implementation and enforcement efforts.

Further, the Council conclusions point to the product scope of the EUTR, stressing that the EUTR already covers a considerable part of the timber and timber products that are placed on the EU market, but that gaps and inconsistencies in the products covered by the Regulation still remain. This may affect the effectiveness of the Regulation and may create inequalities in the playing field both amongst EU market operators and between EU and foreign market operators.

Some stakeholder groups have been calling for an expansion of the product scope, for example paper industry organisation CEPI wishes to see an expansion of the scope to cover printed products. The Commission may consider an expansion of the product scope, and this was also encouraged by the Council conclusions.

The conclusions also address deforestation and forest degradation in the world and note with great concern that this still remains a substantial problem globally, with complex drivers, including agricultural expansion. The Council encourages the Commission to examine options to tackle the drivers of global deforestation and forest degradation and examine how the EU FLEGT Action Plan can continue to contribute to address these challenges.

Green groups Fern, WWF and Conservational International Europe (CIE) insisted that more should be done to stop deforestation by 2020 and call for a specific Action Plan on Deforestation to guarantee policy coherence across all sectors.

In December 2015, the European Commission revealed that it is considering to develop such a plan. Speaking to news service ENDS Europe, a Commission spokesperson confirmed a decision would be made once an ongoing feasibility study is concluded by the end of 2016. The Commission spokesperson added that if the Action Plan on Deforestation goes forward, it will indeed target agricultural drivers of deforestation as they “cannot be addressed” via a FLEGT plan intended to fight illegal logging alone.