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Rural Development Policy

The EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) was divided into two pillars during the Agenda 2000 reforms: Pillar 1 covering ‘Market and Income Support Measures’ and Pillar 2 ‘Rural Development’. Direct EU funding for forests is nonexistent because of the lack of a specific legal basis, this means that financing for forests in the EU comes mainly from the Rural Development pillar of the CAP.

In the period 2000–2006, €4.8 billion of the Rural Development Fund was spent on forestry measures. In a special report in March 2005, the European Court of Auditors severely criticised this spending for a variety of reasons, among which were:

  • The vagueness of concepts like sustainability and multifunctionality.
  • Unclear sharing of management between the Commission and Member States leading to lack of responsibility for meeting commitments.
  • The Commission based its forestry support on national or subnational forest programmes, or equivalent instruments that were rarely available and when available, were of varying quality.
  • Varying interpretations in prioritising land to be afforested.
  • Lack of clear criteria for project selection.
  • Uncertainty as to previous land use or whether the beneficiary was a farmer.
  • Weak and insufficient control systems operated by Member States.

For the period 2007-2013, a new Rural Development Regulation was adopted, which – among others - re-grouped and streamlined forestry measures in order to promote better integration of forestry in rural development. The regulation includes over 40 possible funding measures, of which a total of 20 have direct or indirect relevance to forestry. The rural development fund has a budget of about €12 billion a year.

In November 2008, the EU’s agriculture ministers agreed to a ‘Health Check’ of the CAP, designed to modernise, simplify and streamline it. This provided additional funds for rural development that may be used by Member States to respond to new challenges and opportunities such as biodiversity, water management, climate change measures and renewable energy. It remains to be seen how this money will be used and whether forest protection will be adequately prioritised.

The current Rural Development Regulation contains much enhanced environmental provisions as well as a requirement for consultation with civil society actors at all stages. NGO reports in the last few years have however demonstrated that there are not enough incentives or safeguards in place to ensure that the policy effectively contributes to enhanced forest protection and sustainable use.

In the spring of 2010, the European Commission launched discussions about the CAP after 2013.

Relevant reports and Briefing Notes

EU documents and links

National Rural Development Programmes