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Downloading Europe: A Regional Comparison in the Uptake of the EU Forest Action Plan

The first EU Forest Strategy was adopted in 1998 to provide general guidelines for an EU forest policy designed to coordinate other EU forest-relevant policies. The implementation of the first strategy was done under the auspices of the EU Forest Action Plan, covering the period from 2007 to 2011. The Forest Action Plan was a tool that facilitated voluntary cooperation between EU Member States (no enforcement capabilities), with some coordinating actions being implemented by the European Commission.

The paper “Downloading Europe: A Regional Comparison in the Uptake of the EU Forest Action Plan”, published in the journal Sustainability, returns to the EU Forest Action Plan to provide further insight into how it translated into an EU Member State context. Most articles concerned with the analysis of forest-relevant policies in the EU focus on analyzing EU decision-making impacts on a national level, or vice versa, but not how Member States embrace EU strategies from a comparative perspective. This paper addresses this empirical gap and provides insight into whether Europeanization effects are comparable, irrespective of whether EU Member States are deciding upon and implementing a legally binding or non-legally binding EU policy instrument.

EU Forest Strategy and Action Plan. Credits: Filip Aggestam

The implementation of the EU Forest Action Plan demonstrates that when the EU and national policy goals dovetail well, a significant degree of “downloading” from an EU policy domain to a national level can occur. For instance, countries took up the objectives of the EU Forest Strategy at the national level, essentially providing a work saving copy-paste for national policymakers. Uploading, in contrast, are countries that have tried to lobby for the integration of national priorities into the Forest Action Plan. In line with earlier findings, actions taken by EU Member States correlated with the relevance each attached to the plan. The uploading versus downloading range from Member States that were engaged in formulating the Forest Action Plan but were inactive in downloading it, to countries that have largely embraced the plan in the development of their own national forestry strategies and programs (e.g., EU accession countries).

However, the degree to which countries align with the Forest Action Plan can be decoupled from their involvement in uploading and downloading. This means that if a Member State does not assign any direct relevance to a non-binding and voluntary EU strategy or action plan, it does not matter whether it is already aligned with the associated policy priorities at the EU level. Even more, neither the degree of forest cover (so forest rich countries) nor the comparative importance of forest-based industries for the countries was a determining factor for how a Member State behaved. For example, Sweden was neither active in up- nor downloading, despite having a large, well-established forest-based sector, high forest cover, and a national forest policy that aligned well with the Forest Action Plan. The main explanation for this is that the plan simply did not have anything to contribute to the national forest policy.

The findings demonstrate that there are significant variations in the implementation of soft vs. legally binding instruments. While this may have been an expected result, no studies have, to date, looked at the implementation of soft policy instruments at a national level from a comparative perspective. This article contributes to closing this gap and adds to the implementation literature. However, and most importantly, the results demonstrate the need for a more nuanced and varied approach to the implementation of non-legally binding (or soft) policy instruments, such as communications, versus legally-binding (or hard) instruments, such as directives and regulations.

The paper “Downloading Europe: A Regional Comparison in the Uptake of the EU Forest Action Plan” is published in Sustainability, 2020, 12(10), 3999. Sustainability is an international, cross-disciplinary, peer-reviewed and open access journal of environmental, cultural, economic, and social sustainability of human beings. Filip Aggestam, was the lead author, together with his co-author Helga Pülzl, at the Institute of Forest, Environmental and Natural Resource Policy at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna (BOKU) and the European Forest Institute (EFI) Forest Policy Research Network.

You can read the full article here.


The open-access publication was supported by BOKU Vienna Open Access Publishing Fund.

Photo credit: Frans de Wit @Flickr

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