‘Panic logging' has accelerated in Romania, and environmental defenders there say that referring Romania to the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) could help stop the destruction and underscore the practical impact of EU nature laws.
A recent inventory showed that much of the EU’s remaining primary and old-growth forests are in Romania: roughly 500,000 hectares. More than 300,000 hectares of this are included in Natura 2000, as they shelter habitats and species protected under the EU’s Habitats and Birds Directives.
But Romania has repeatedly violated EU conservation rules, and has yet to be held accountable.
Romania exploits some 38 million cubic metres of wood annually; of that, 20 million is untraceable. More than half of Romania’s forests (including all state-owned forests, and a significant portion of the privately owned forests) are Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and/or Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) certified. Yet despite this, wood from Romania – sold on the EU and global market – likely includes products that violate the EU Habitats, Birds and strategic environmental impact assessment Directives. (FW 272)
Safeguards meant to address the widespread problem have failed.
Romanian non-profit Agent Green investigates, exposes, and pursues infringements of environmental infringements. Romanian courts have frequently upheld Agent Green’s complaints, ruling against the companies and authorities that permitted logging activities in breach of EU laws.
And yet nothing changes. In late 2021, the Bucharest Court of Appeal upheld Agent Green accusations and annulled forest management plans for more than 7,000 hectares of natural forest in the Făgăraș Mountains, protected under Natura 2000: no impact assessment had been carried out, FSC-certification had been given to logging operations that caused deterioration of protected ecosystems and species, and most disturbingly, the Ministry of Environment did nothing. Despite the Court’s decision, the FSC auditor (Soil Association) never withdrew the FSC certificate, the logging operations disregarded the judgment and Romanian authorities are not enforcing it.
Following a 2019 complaint by Agent Green, ClientEarth and EuroNatur Foundation, the Commission sent a reasoned Opinion in July 2020 (FW 272), giving Romania just one month to stop illegal logging and the continued destruction of Romania’s Natura 2000 sites. Almost three years later, EU institutions have not followed up.
In the meantime, “panic logging” has accelerated in primary and old-growth forests, possibly to extract as much as possible before any new rules are put in place, and to remove the scientific reason to accord special protection. Forestry norms that allow clearcuts and other types of logging (including large openings in the canopy and complete removal of forest cover) continue to be applied in both soft and hardwood forests, even those protected under Natura 2000. Impact assessments are still not carried out.
The public-facing blow to EU credibility is significant; open defiance of EU obligations is allowed to continue with impunity.
The Commission’s urgent referral of the matter to the EU Court of Justice (CJEU) could redress that perception, and open the possibility of an interim halt to the destruction while the matter is decided. The CJEU recently called threatened habitats and species “part of the European Union’s natural heritage”, and EU institutions could encourage Romania to protect primary and old-growth forests, and better preserve these with corridors of native forests and close-to-nature forestry, making forests more resilient to climate change. Without EU intervention, however, a large part of the EU’s last remaining forest heritage may be lost.
Category: Forest Watch