Illegal logging in Romania must stop, says the European Commission

The European Commission sent an official warning to the Romanian government urging the country to put a halt to illegal activities carried out in ancient forests and protected national parks.

In a formal notice sent on 12 February 2020, the European Commission denounced the poor implementation of the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) in Romania. The Commission criticised the inadequate management of the forest that has resulted in massive destruction.

In 2015, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) revealed that illegal logging is destroying Romania’s ancient forests and national parks, including protected Natura 2000 areas. 

The consequences on residents and defenders of the forest have been dramatic. Last year, META reported on the tragic murders of forest rangers in Romania. According to the Silva Trade Union Federation, 650 violent incidents have occurred against forest workers in Romania in recent years, including physical assaults, death threats and destruction of property. 

Murky sourcing

In its formal notice, the Commission states that there are significant shortcomings when it comes to tracing the origins of timber. This makes it impossible to hold the companies using such illegal timber accountable. 

The EIA especially points out the involvement of one company in its report: Holzindustrie Schweighofer. The Austrian company has used Romanian wood with unclear origins. Despite the company’s declarations about the sustainability and traceability of its wood supplies, the EIA still linked illegal logging to the company in its most recent investigation in 2018. Over an 18-month period, the EIA identified 50 logging sites in two national parks that supply timber to Schweighofer.

Graphic by RHIPTO

The graphic above, made by RHIPTO, the Norwegian Center for Global Analyses, illustrates the lack of transparency surrounding logging. The complex system made up of different go-betweens makes it almost impossible to track wood correctly and leaves companies unaccountable for their actions.

These illegal activities have greatly damaged the environment and scientists estimate that in 2005, Romania was home to two-thirds of EU virgin forests, around 300,000 hectares, but in 2018 researchers concluded that the forests represent now 100,000 hectares. 

Bad management of the forestry is to blame according to the European Commission’s letter that gave Romania one month to take appropriate measures to address the issues listed in the letter. Inadequate management includes the absence of evaluations of the logging impacts on protected habitats, that are required under the Habitats Directive and Strategic Environmental Assessment Directives.

The Commission’s warning to Romania follows a complaint to the Commission by environmental NGOs. “We are happy that the European Commission is taking more seriously its role as the last line of defence of Europe’s nature,” says Sergiy Moroz, the EEB’s policy manager for water and biodiversity. “We hope it will hold other member states equally to account when they infringe the EU’s nature laws.”