Romania forests - Complaint to the European Commission

Media briefing, Sept. 10, 2019

prepared by Agent Green, Client Earth and EuroNatur

Background

Romania hosts the largest natural and virgin forests in the EU which are home to numerous species protected by EU Habitats and Birds directives. A high proportion of these species (such as saproxylic beetles, bats, owls, woodpeckers or forest cocks) depend on presence of old trees and standing and lying dead wood, which can only be found in unmanaged areas or very close to them. A large proportion of these high biodiversity value forests are located within Natura 2000 sites . Logging in Romania’s Natura 2000 sites areas has had a severe and widespread impact on natural forests with a protected conservation status.

Logging permissions in Romania are based upon forest management plans (FMPs), which have to be approved by the Ministry for Water and Forests every 10 years. There is clear evidence, that in many cases these plans have not been subject to sufficient environmental assessments required by law. 

There are two environmental assessments which should be conducted prior to adoption of FMPs:

© Matthias Schickhofer / EuroNatur
Enchanted wilderness in the Paradise Forests of the Romanian Carpathians. © Matthias Schickhofer / EuroNatur

1. Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA)

Based on the SEA Directive this assessment is required for a wide range of public plans and programmes. It is mandatory for plans and programmes which are prepared, among others, for forestry and which set the framework for future development consent of projects listed in the EIA Directive. The aim of the SEA is to ensure that plans and programmes take into consideration the environmental effects they cause.

2. Assessment under the Habitats Directive

Article 6(3) of the Habitats Directive requires that any plan or project not directly connected with or necessary to the management of a Natura 2000 site but likely to have a significant effect thereon, either individually or in combination with other plans or projects, shall be subject to appropriate assessment of its implications for the site in view of the site's conservation objectives.

The focus of the assessment under the habitats Directive is specifically on the species and/or the habitats for which the Natura 2000 site is designated. An appropriate assessment should lead competent national authorities to agree to a plan only if they can ascertain that it will not adversely affect the integrity of the site concerned.
Lack of assessment under the Habitats Directive is particularly harmful in the context of logging in Romanian forests which are home to a number of protected species, including black stork which is protected under EU law.

  • The NGOs who authored the complaint to the European Commission identified several forest administrations, both under management of the Romanian forest authority Romsilva and under private administration, who apply national legislation in a manner which means that environmental assessments are not carried out until some considerable time (in some cases years) after logging has taken place: OS Baia de Aramă, OS Lerești, OS Spinu Podeni, OS Scara Mâzgavu, OS Tismana, OS Poieni, OS Padeș, OS Băile Herculane, OS Avrig, OS Izvoru Florii, OS Boișoara, OS Alpina Borșa, OS Lupeni, OS Făgăraș. In these areas activities under the FMPs (logging, selling the forest etc.)  started well before the environmental assessments, which is indicative of a systemic problem in Romania.
  • The European Commission has a power, under Article 258 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU, to take formal action against Member States who breach or fail to properly implement EU law.  This action, known as “infringement proceedings”, allows the Commission to require the Member State to remedy the breach, and ultimately to take the Member State to court if the matter is not resolved. The present complaint has been submitted to DG Environment for them to assess whether a formal infringement procedure should be opened against Romania.

Conclusions:

  • Romania hosts the largest natural and virgin forest heritage within the temperate climate zone of the EU but the lack of effective strategic environmental assessment and appropriate assessment puts these forests in danger. These areas, constituting two-thirds of Europe’s last virgin forests, are being systematically logged and no national remedies appear to be able to prevent this logging.
  • Legal action in a similar case – virgin Bialowieza forest in Poland – has been brought before the CJEU which, in its ruling of 17 April 2018, found that the Government of Poland has failed to fulfil its obligations to protect the forest and ordered the immediate repeal of illegal logging permit. Meanwhile, Romanian law allows the systematic logging inside Natura areas without any assessment.
  • By continuing logging, Romania is not only violating EU and international legislation but also destroying some of Europe’s last virgin forests.
© Matthias Schickhofer/EuroNatur
What remains of centuries-old beeches after logging are only the tree stumps. (The photos on this page as well as more pictures from the Romanian virgin forests are available in printable quality on request.) © Matthias Schickhofer/EuroNatur

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About EuroNatur:
EuroNatur is a nature conservation foundation based in Radolfzell, Germany. Our efforts for a Europe with free-flowing rivers, ancient forests and a rich variety of cultural landscapes are transboundary in nature; we strengthen local conservation organizations and create international networks between them. Together with our Europe-wide partner network we create solutions that allow humans to live and work in harmony with nature. Our aim is a powerful network committed to protecting our European natural heritage.


About Agent Green:
Agent Green is a non-profit NGO for environmental protection and biodiversity conservation founded in 2009 in Romania. Established to protect Retezat Mountains, one of the last intact forest landscapes in the temperate climate of Europe, Agent Green evolved into carrying out investigations, scientific approach, strategic cooperation and effective campaigns targeted at bringing about positive and lasting change for nature.


About ClientEarth:
ClientEarth is a charity that uses the power of the law to protect people and the planet. We are international lawyers finding practical solutions for the world’s biggest environmental challenges. We are fighting climate change, protecting oceans and wildlife, making forest governance stronger, greening energy, making business more responsible and pushing for government transparency. We believe the law is a tool for positive change. From our offices in London, Brussels, Warsaw, Berlin, Madrid and Beijing, we work on laws throughout their lifetime, from the earliest stages to implementation. And when those laws are broken, we go to court to enforce them.

 

 

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