Sinn Féin spokesperson on Agriculture, Matt Carthy TD, has said that a response from European Commission has left the governments “excuse” for the delay on their long-awaited forestry programme “in tatters”.
Having been extended by two-years, the previous forestry programme elapsed on December 1st 2022, with government claiming sanction for the 2023 programme could not be sought until new state aid guidelines were approved.
However, a written response to Chris MacManus MEP from the European Commission raises questions to the validity of this “excuse”.
Teachta Carthy said:
“Considering the importance of forestry to rural economies and its role in Climate Action, it is incredible that new afforestation licence applications cannot be accepted since January 1st.
“The excuse from governments is that they had to wait until the new rules were in place before applying for an exemption for the Irish forestry programme.
“However, the European Commission has now told Sinn Féin MEP, Chris MacManus, that Romania, Italy, Latvia, Poland, Denmark and Bulgaria all currently ‘have State aid schemes for afforestation in place’ that run to various durations over the coming years, and which can now be adapted to the new rules.
“Given apparent concerns within the European Commission regarding the governments’ proposed forestry programme, it seems bizarre the Irish government didn’t provide for a new programme under the old rules and then had worked to adapt it as other states are doing.
“The crux of this response is that the European Commission have made it abundantly apparent that they are not to blame for the most recent forestry debacle.
“Once again Minister McConalogue and Minister Hackett are presiding over a disastrous forestry policy. Having set yearly targets of 8,000 hectares of new afforestation they have barely met ¼ of that each year since entering government.
“The situation could actually worsen in 2024 due to the current delay in securing European state aid approval. This will have profound implications for Ireland’s ability to reach Climate Action targets and for the forestry sector.
“The Ministers and this government must take responsibility for this disastrous situation.”
Note to Editor:
Priority question for written answer P-000679/2023
to the Commission
Chris MacManus (The Left)
Subject:State aid and forestry in Ireland
Support measures for those engaged in Irish afforestation expired in December 2022. The Irish government had claimed that this was due to the State aid approval process and that the draft Forestry Programme 2023–2027 was subject to further consultation as part of a strategic environmental assessment (SEA).
The Irish government claimed an SEA was done as part of securing State aid approval from the Commission and that the Department is integrating feedback from that process prior to submitting the programme to the Commission for formal approval. Afforestation funding was therefore unavailable as they suggested it was the Commission’s fault as the previous State aid guidelines in the agricultural/forestry sectors and in rural areas expired on 31 December 2022 and were replaced with a revised version in January 2023.
Can the Commission confirm:
- What Member States have State aid exemptions in place for afforestation and for what years is the exemption/programme applicable?
- Can the Commission confirm whether the Irish government could have applied for a State aid exemption for its new forestry programme in 2020, 2021 and 2022, or was it was obliged to wait until new rules were in place in 2023?
- Is an SEA obligatory or essential for securing State aid approval for forestry?
ENP-000679/2023Answer given by Executive Vice-President Vestageron behalf of the European Commission(17.3.2023)
- Romania, Italy, Latvia, Poland, Denmark and Bulgaria have State aid schemes for afforestation in place. These ongoing State aid schemes have various durations with 2027 being the latest expiry date so far.
- Member States were able to notify afforestation or any other State aid schemes under the 2014 State aid Guidelines. Such notifications were assessed and approved by the Commission on the basis of those Guidelines until the end of the year 2022. However, such ongoing schemes have to be adapted to the new rules set out in the new State aid Guidelines, applicable since 1 January 2023, by 30 June 2023.
- The State aid rules applicable to afforestation require the respect of minimum environmental requirements as set in point 504 of the new State aid Guidelines The strategic environmental assessment (SEA) does not form part of the State aid rules as such but is essential for the assessment of the respect of the minimum environmental requirements which the Forestry programme 2023-2027 shall meet.