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EU support for private forests: no tangible results, say EU Auditors

Court of Auditors - ECA/13/27   19/09/2013

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EUROPEAN COURT OF AUDITORS

PRESS RELEASE

ECA/13/27

Luxembourg, 19 September 2013

EU support for private forests: no tangible results, say EU Auditors

The situation in the forestry sector in the EU was not specifically analysed so as to justify specific financial support aimed at improving the economic value of forests, according to a report issued by the European Court of Auditors (ECA) today. Member States used the measure to support operations which did not correspond to the programme’s goals and which would be more appropriately financed by other measures with different eligibility requirements and aid financing rates, usually lower.

The specific measure 122 “improvement of the economic value of forests” was first introduced for the EU budget period of 2007-13. The total amount allocated for the measure amounted to € 535 million in the period 2007-13.The ECA’s audit revealed deficiencies in the programme across the board - the design, implementation and monitoring of the measure. The EU auditors concluded that the Commission and the Member States did not manage the audited aspects of the support for the improvement of the economic value of forests efficiently and effectively. Considering that this support programme is proposed to be maintained for the next budget period 2014-20, the ECA has proposed a number of improvements to make sure that the programme provides EU added value.

The ECA found that only a few of the audited projects improved significantly the economic value of the forests, either by improving the value of the land (building of forest tracks and roads) or the value of the stands (silvicultural operations like pruning or thinning).Cases of public support disproportionately high were also revealed.

Given the results of the current programme, the ECA recommends that the Commission overhaul it by firstly defining what the economic value of a forest consists of, and to assess EU needs to support increasing economic value, as well as to clearly define the key features that would ensure that the EU support is targeted to address those needs. The ECA also called on Member States to put in place adequate procedures to ensure that support is effective as to actually increase the economic value of the forest areas where the investments take place.

The ECA found that Member States did not determine or require beneficiaries to determine the value of the forest areas prior to and after the investments, so it is very difficult to determine if any value has been added as a result of EU support.

Notes to the editors:

European Court of Auditors (ECA) special reports are published throughout the year, presenting the results of selected audits of specific EU budgetary areas or management topics.

This special report (SR 08/2013) is entitled ““Support for the Improvement of the economic value of forests from the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development”. The ECA assesses whether rural development support for the improvement of the economic value of forests is managed efficiently and effectively. The audit covered both the Commission and selected Member States (Spain (Galicia), Italy (Tuscany), Hungary, Austria and Slovenia) accounting for more than 50 % of the total expenditure declared.

The audit found weaknesses in the design of the measure which significantly hinders its successful implementation: at the Commission level, the situation in the forestry sector in the EU was not specifically analysed so as to justify the proposal of specific financial support for improving the economic value of forests of private owners or municipalities. Furthermore, key features of the measure were not defined in the legal provisions, particularly the meaning of “economic value of forests” and what is a “forestry holding”. Moreover, Member States set very different sizes of forest holdings above which a forest management plan was required

The ECA found that only a few of the audited projects improved significantly the economic value of the forests, either by improving the value of the land (building of forest tracks and roads) or the value of the stands

(silvicultural operations like pruning or thinning).

Given the results of the current programmes, the ECA recommends:

The Commission should: define and assess the EU needs for improving the economic value of the forests; clearly define the key features that would ensure that the EU support is targeted to address those needs, and thus create EU added value.

The Member States should: adequately describe in their rural development programmes the specific economic needs and opportunities of the different types of forest areas and beneficiaries; enhance forest management by providing for the elaboration of forest management plans for the bulk of forest holdings and the promotion of certification of forest areas; set adequate requirements to ensure that forestry support within the rural development policy is consistent, in line with state aid provisions and maximises its effectiveness; put in place adequate procedures to ensure that support is effective as to actually increase the economic value of the forest areas where the investments take place;

The Commission should improve its monitoring of the measure to ensure that the Members States implement it in line with the specific objectives set. In concrete terms, the Member States should require beneficiaries to

provide details of the value of their forest areas both prior to and after the aided investments and managing bodies should be required to validate these values.

Contact:

Aidas Palubinskas

Press Officer European Court of Auditors

Desk: +352 4398 45410 Mobile: +352 621 552224

press@eca.europa.eu www.eca.europa.eu Twitter: @EUAuditorsECA


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