Light coming through trees in forest

Belgium facing legal action for breaking illegal logging law

The European Commission has launched legal action against Belgium because it is breaking the EU’s law against illegal logging. This is the first time the Commission has taken action against an EU Member State for not enforcing the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) properly.

Earlier this month, the Commission began legal proceedings against Belgium for not carrying out enough EUTR checks on wood placed on the Belgian market, which breaks EU law.

Belgium now has two months to step up their enforcement efforts. If they don’t take action, the case could go to the European Court of Justice where Belgium could face financial penalties.

Between 2013 and March 2017, Belgium has carried out a mere 26 timber regulation checks. In March 2017, ClientEarth sent a complaint to the Commission about Belgium’s unacceptably low number of EUTR controls.

ClientEarth forest lawyer Diane de Rouvre said: “The Commission is sending a strong signal to all Member States that it is not enough to just have the EUTR on paper.”

“Belgium is an important entry point for tropical timber into the EU. The lack of proper enforcement in Belgium jeopardises efforts made by other countries. It also undermines timber producing countries which have signed trade agreements with the EU to ensure their timber exports are legal. National governments need to enforce the law properly to help tackle illegal logging.”

The EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) seeks to prevent illegally harvested timber and timber products from being placed on the EU market and requires companies to check the risk of illegality in their timber supply chains.

Illegal logging is one of the biggest factors responsible for forest loss around the world. Working properly, the EUTR can be a powerful tool to protect the climate and our forests. The low quantity of controls are likely to affect the quality of checks that are made, a point made in a parallel complaint brought by Greenpeace earlier this year.

Other Member States in the same situation as Belgium who have not allocated enough resources to enforce the EUTR should take this as a serious warning. They cannot use this as an excuse to duck their duty and must act urgently.

ClientEarth has looked at how the EUTR has been implemented and is being enforced in a number of Member States and has compiled info-briefings which you can access here.

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Bruno Kestemont