European Parliament study on illegal logging in Romania: attacks on environmental activists must be stopped, Green Prosecutor – recommended
At the request of USR MEP Vlad Gheorghe, the European Parliament has carried out a study on illegal logging in Romania. Presented to the Petitions Committee today, the study is over 130 pages long. It analyses the differences in legislation and sanctions in the Member States, with clear recommendations for effectively combating the phenomenon.
The recommendations include the establishment of a European Green Prosecutor. This new initiative would deal with illegal logging, financial crimes and human rights violations associated with it:
“An EU-wide Green Prosecutor would facilitate cross-border investigations and uniform prosecution of offenders in all member states”, the authors point out (p.12).
The experts also recommend other measures, such as improving the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR), which would extend the responsibility of operators to distribution companies, both of which are prohibited from selling illegally harvested timber. Experts also recommend legislation on illegal logging to be uniform across Member States. The level of penalties should be increased and the provisions linked to those on corruption, tax evasion and human rights violations.
Petition Daniel Bodnar
The study was revealed after yesterday’s hearing of well-known environmental activist Daniel Bodnar in the Committee on Petitions (PETI). Bodnar submitted a petition calling on the European institutions to intervene to protect activists, journalists and whistleblowers who oppose environmental crimes in Romania and EU. At the request of USR MEP Vlad Gheorghe, a member of the Committee on behalf of Renew Europe, the petition was debated under urgent procedure in the presence of the petitioner.
Romania has two thirds of Europe’s temperate primary forests. They are an asset of public, national and European interest. Their destruction affects not only Romanian citizens or the Romanian state, but the whole of Europe, the Bucovina activist stressed during the hearing. He told MEPs that since the beginning of this year, more than 60 attacks on forestry staff have been reported. There have been reports of physical violence, death threats, burning of property and harassment of families, including the children of foresters. These are the official figures from the Silva Federation of Forestry Unions. At the same time, since 2014, the National Forestry Administration has recorded more than 800 such cases. 6 foresters have been killed, many others needed hospitalisation, Bodnar recalled. He himself is a victim of such violent attacks.
“Please take firm action to stop attacks on activists, journalists and whistleblowers who protect Europe’s forests. Please consider the need for an urgent resolution on this issue. I also call on the Commission to ensure that the authorities in Romania and in all Member States with similar problems really protect the citizens who are fighting for the protection of the environment”, he added to the MEPs, inviting them to come to Bukovina to see the situation for themselves.
Support from PETI members
Luxembourg MEP Marc Angel (S&D) praised Daniel Bodnar’s courage in his fight against deforestation in Romania.
“Romanian environmental activists face physical, verbal and violent online attacks that go against fundamental EU principles and rights. It is often thanks to environmental activists that we learn about environmental crime. This is why we must take all possible measures to protect them, guarantee them effective legal remedies and put an end to impunity for aggressors”, said the Luxembourg MEP.
In his intervention from the Committee, Vlad Gheorghe, the USR MEP who proposed the creation of the European Green Prosecutor, stressed that the EU still lacks an instrument to effectively combat environmental crimes:
“Most violent attacks on whistleblowers, activists and journalists are linked to illegal logging and illegal landfills. Both are highly profitable criminal activities involving cross-border organised networks. Often the criminals go unpunished, as EUROPOL warns”, Gheorghe told colleagues on the Petitions Committee.
The USR MEP stressed that in cases of aggression against activists, local and national authorities fail to protect them. They fail to protect people and the environment. That is why he called for the intervention of the European institutions, including EU regulation on corporate responsibility for environmental issues.