forest policy

BREXIT, Common Forest Policy in Europe and “empty formulas” – an interview with prof. Max Krott

This time, I have interviewed professor Max Krott from University of Göttingen (Germany). We have discussed issues such as Brexit, Common Forest Policy in Europe or the application of forest policy models.

First, I have to admit that we know each other since 2010, when I was a student during the Euroforester Master Programme hold at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, in Alnarp, Sweden. Professor Krott was a guest speaker in the Forest Policy course. Since that time we met several times at different conferences, and this year we jointly published a paper about strategic options for state forest institutions in Poland.

READ MORE: How to evaluate state forest institutions?

Thank you professor Krott that you agreed to participate in this interview.

Let’s start with your views on the impact of Brexit on forests in Europe. Do you think that the UK exiting the European Union can affect European forests and (forest related) environmental policy?

     – Forestry is a European and global issue but forest policy is still dominated by national policy. Therefore Brexit has little influence. The Environmental Policy by the European Union is merely symbolic and in substance highly ineffective, e.g.  Natura 2000 which  is  promoted since three decades but  up to now has not had any impact in the field. After the Brexit UK will gain decision space for forest and environmental policies, which then work for them.      

There are voices that the UK was always opposing the idea of creating an EU common forest policy. There are some speculations that after the Brexit, it might be easier to create a Common Forest Policy in the EU.
What do you think about Common Forest Policy in Europe? Does it make sense and what are the chances for its implementation in coming years?

    – Within the European Union the influence of the EU Bureaucracy has grown, which produces a high mountain of rules created by well payed experts, but which are too complex to be handled in practice and too centralized to meet the needs of the member states. Brexit draws the attention to this threat and opens the future up for alternatives: Either freed by the loss of the critical voice of UK to continue in producing bureaucracy-driven “with-inputs” without substantive impact, or to learn from Brexit and increase the pressure by member states to stop EU centralism. Subsidiarity could easily be strengthened by a default renewal strategy: Two thirds of the EU regulations are selected to be abolished by, say, 2020 unless they are renewed before that date. Forestry is not much affected by the deficits of the EU because it is determined by national policies. The well-functioning subsidiarity in forestry has a potential to become a role model for all EU policies!         

During a Forest Policy course in Sweden, I remember very well your lecture where you were talking about “empty formulas” in forest policy.
Could you explain to Forest Monitor readers what are “empty formulas”?

    – “Empty formulas” are frequently used by political language. They demonstrate an agreement by a formula or a specific wording, but which lack substance due to the use of vague and general terms. Everybody agrees on “Sustainable Forestry” which serves ecological, economic and social needs. But the meaning of such a general goal for a specific stand is vague and open. It includes harvested stands as well as set-asides. During policy implementation “empty formulas” then need to be specified to come up with a solution.     

The attractiveness of empty formulas is that they communicate the impression of political solutions where in practice no agreement was found between conflicting interests. Therefore empty formulas are strongly used by actors in cases with weak decision making procedures, e.g. in international forest policy.  The disadvantage is that empty formulas, which sometimes are even part of laws, leave decision space for substantial decision in implementation dominated by powerful actors.

Don’t you think that these “empty formulas” make forest policy research quite difficult for scientists to analyze?

    – Empty formulas are tricky for researchers. If scientists fill up the empty formula of sustainable forestry in order to create meaningful goals for further research they themselves shape the subject of their research and miss the political content of sustainability.    

I know that in your Chair of forest and nature conservation policy, there are many forest policy models created to better understand forest policy in different countries around the world. During our study about Poland, I had an opportunity to learn and apply the 3L model. Last time, when we met, you explained me the RIU model, and I was very impressed by it. Could you tell us a bit more about RIU model, and its practical application in forest policy?

    – Our 3L model is an analytical attempt to evaluate state forest organizations despite the vague and contradicting goals which policies formulate for these organizations. For instance, a state forest enterprise should be sustainable but also make profits and deliver additional ecosystem services, too. By the 3L model we capture the “cloudy” public goals and link them with substantial, theorybased meaning and empirical evidence. The 3L model makes the performances of specific state forest organisations comparable with other countries. Such a benchmark reveals the national foci in forest policy and enlarges the public goals beyond a purely economic evaluation.    

A last question what are your plans for 2017?

     – A huge challenge will be our task to foster the transfer of improved silviculture models into practice in European countries. We have developed a model for such a science-based policy support called RIU model. This project is also about triggering the knowledge transfer into practice. We belief that a good analytical tool is the best basis for improving forest policy, but the political actors in practice will have the final say, ,of course!     

Professor Max Krott is Chair for Forest- and Nature Conservation Policy at the George-August University of Göttingen, Germany.

He was teaching at several Universities in Europe and the US and has supervised 50 PhD students. He was member of the executive board of the International Union of Forest Research Organizations and is founding editor-in-chief of the international Elsevier journal “Forest Policy and Economics”.

His main field of research are forest and nature conservation policy in Europe and research policy.

He has published 25 books and over 150 papers.

Address: Chair for Forest- and Nature Conservation Policy, George-August University of Göttingen; Büsgenweg 3, D-37077 Göttingen.


Main photo: Albani Cemetery in Göttingen, Germany, where Princeps mathematicorum – Johann Carl Friedrich Gauss was burried. Photo credit: Rafal Chudy

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