The policy observatory is a platform within INFORMAR that provides short analysis of ongoing European policy processes related to integrated forest management, usually based on scientific policy analysis done by EFI or other research institutes.

Is the EU biodiversity policy fit for its purpose?

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27 years after the adoption of the European-wide Natura 2000 network of protected areas, the overall status of biodiversity throughout Europe continues to be critical. The implementation process of Natura 2000 was marked by delays and conflicts and is far from being completed. This process caused long-lasting discussions about the effectiveness of the Birds and Habitats Directives, of which Natura 2000 is part of, in achieving their objectives at political level. In 2015 the EU thus conducted a Regulatory Fitness and Performance (REFIT) process, the so-called ‘fitness check’, to assess the overall performance of the directives. This process did, however, not result in the suggestion to revise the legislative framework but suggested to better implement it instead.


How can forests play a role in the Common Agricultural Policy of the European Union?

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In the absence of a common EU forest policy, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is possibly the policy of the EU that affects European landscapes the most. The CAP does not only address farmers, but also forest owners: The CAP contains instruments related to forest management in its second pillar named the Rural Development Policy. In 2020, the CAP will be reformed once more. This raises the question of what the policy should look like in the future, and more specifically, how it may (or should) impact Europe’s forests and forest management?

A policy analysis was conducted to explore different visions for forests in the CAP after 2020 in the eyes of interest groups. The results were based on interviews with key stakeholders of EU-level interest groups. Two actor coalitions of interest groups were identified in the study: A “landowner coalition” and a “nature conservation”. The landowner coalition mainly consisted of farmers and forest owners, while the nature conservation coalition mostly consisted of environmental NGOs. The two coalitions had different opinions on what role forests should play in the CAP. The relationship between the actors in the two coalitions was characterised by distrust and disagreements over scientific knowledge. The landowner coalition perceived the actors in the nature conservation coalition as being economically irresponsible, while the nature conservationists characterised the landowner coalition as being mainly driven by their economic interests. Actors in both coalitions saw this polarisation as a factor blocking collaboration between the interest groups of the coalitions.

The study explored the opportunities and challenges for a better inclusion of forests in the CAP after 2020. Among the opportunities was that all interest groups agreed that the Rural Development Policy can provide a good foundation to address forest specific issues. Actors in the landowner and nature conservation coalition agreed that forests as provider of ecosystem services and forests as provider of climate change mitigation should be promoted through the Rural Development Policy. However, the actors do not necessarily agree on how these visions for forests should be realised. One suitable compromise could be achieved through coupling the provision of ecosystem services to functioning (financial) incentive systems. If actors across of the two coalitions could work better together, this would provide new opportunities for an overall greater inclusion of forests in the CAP.

Challenges for a larger inclusion of forests in the CAP includes the non-existence of a common EU forest policy, which makes it difficult to address forests on EU-level. Also, EU member states with a strong agricultural or forestry sector have no interest in substantially reforming the CAP. Lastly, the historical roots and path dependency of the CAP will prevent major change.

This policy brief is based on the Master thesis of Camilla Dolriis titled ”Coalition formation and perceptions of nature: A discursive struggle over the role of forests in the future Common Agricultural Policy” conducted at Aarhus University, Denmark, in collaboration with the European Forest Institute’s Bonn Office.