Romanian victory in the European Parliament: overwhelming vote against illegal logging. There is a clear demand for the European Green Prosecutor
With 317 votes in favour, 248 against and 20 abstentions, MEPs today adopted the toughest text in years on illegal logging. The amendment tabled by USR MEP Vlad Gheorghe setting a European Green Prosecutor also received a majority of votes. This is a first in the EU.
The resolution voted in the European Parliament “underlines that the establishment of an EU Green Prosecutor, by extending the mandate of the EPPO (…) is a way to improve implementation and enforcement of EU environmental legislation and to combat serious environmental crime with a cross-border dimension”.
“The name Green Prosecutor appears for the first time in an official document voted in Parliament’s plenary. This is a confirmation of the need for such an institution both in the EU and in Romania”, points out the author of the amendment, USR MEP Vlad Gheorghe.
MEPs agreed that “illegal logging is a very worrying activity, causing environmental damage, loss of biodiversity and degradation of ecosystems, desertification and soil erosion, leading to natural disasters such as landslides, and has resulted in the destruction or damage of several Natura 2000 sites and virgin and secular forests”. The resolution explicitly cites that illegal logging products are sold in the EU as certified timber and “all major certification schemes have difficulties in effectively identifying and managing corruption issues, the systems in place for identifying corruption are relatively limited and insufficiently cover the risk of fraud”.
Corruption and fraud as drivers of illegal logging
Furthermore, the text adopted by Brussels today cites corruption and fraud as “the main drivers of illegal logging, leading to weak law enforcement and impunity which also increases various criminal activities such as conflict financing and money laundering”. At the same time, MEPs “call on the criminal investigation bodies and competent authorities of the Member States to investigate and fully enforce the law in all cases of illegal logging and the transport, storage, distribution and sale of illegal timber”.
USR MEP Vlad Gheorghe was involved in drafting the final version of the resolution. He is further explaining the reasons behind his action:
It is common knowledge in Romania that for years we have been losing 3 hectares of forest/hour. However, reports made by authorities tell us that Romania’s forest area is actually increasing. We are not alone in this situation. The difference is that we are among the few Member States that still have old, primary forests. Other countries have bigger problems with poaching and illegal trade in protected species, others with illegal waste. We need to stop and punish offenders. This is a common denominator.”
Other provisions of the resolution
The resolution also requires all Member States to ensure that timber tracking systems are fully operational and that sanctions in the forest sector are proportionate and dissuasive so as to effectively deter illegal logging. Parliament is deeply concerned that sanctions are currently not proportionate to the value of timber products, that operators sometimes receive only warnings or very mild administrative sanctions and wants the authorities to provide means to improve forestry activities, to increase the number of law enforcement officers where necessary to effectively prosecute and prosecute cases of illegal logging, based on evidence collected by the police or referred to the police by third parties.
“It is interesting to see how the MEPs of the PSD-PNL-UDMR governing coalition voted and what measures they will take to remedy the issues highlighted by the European Parliament, especially as there is nothing new in the text, these are issues that non-governmental organisations, environmental activists, citizens in the country and in the diaspora have been pointing out for years”, Vlad Gheorghe believes.
The text adopted by MEPs also mentions attacks on forestry officials, foresters, law enforcement officers, environmental activists and investigative journalists, including deadly attacks, stating that they are committed either by individuals or by well-organised and well-equipped gangs involved in illegal logging, who increasingly resort to violence and frequent intimidation.
Many similar cases are also known in Romania. Activists Daniel Bodnar, Tiberiu Bosutar and representatives of the independent press have repeatedly been the targets of such attacks.
The European Green Prosecutor
The resolution stresses that a fact-finding mission to areas affected by illegal logging would be helpful to assess the reality on the ground – also a proposal by USR MEP Vlad Gheorghe, a member of the Renew Europe group in the European Parliament. The Renew Europe group has supported Vlad Gheorghe’s idea – the European Green Prosecutor – to exclusively investigate environmental crimes, since 2021.
“In fact, it is about extending a model that already exists and works – the European Public Prosecutor’s Office led by Laura Codruța Kövesi”, says the Romanian MEP, one of the most active in the EP in terms of saving forests, species and protected areas in Romania.
Since the beginning of his mandate in November 2020, Gheorghe has submitted more than 150 interpellations of environmental authorities. He has also filed a number of criminal complaints. Suspected corruption or other violations of national and European legislation in the field have been alleged. Vlad Gheorghe is one of the authors of the draft law ”DNA-ul Pădurilor”, a project to fight environmental crimes. Unfortunately, this was declared unconstitutional by the Romanian Constitutional Court led by Valer Dorneanu.