This section of VPA Unpacked describes the main groups of European Union (EU) stakeholders in a Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) process, the roles they play and the outcomes they seek.
EU institutions and other bodies
The following EU institutions and other bodies have a role in VPA processes.
The Council of the European Union. The Council is the main decision-making body of the European Union. Its members are government ministers from each of the EU member states. In 2003, the Council endorsed the Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan.
In 2005, the Council adopted the FLEGT Regulation and authorised the European Commission to negotiate VPAs with timber-exporting countries. The Council provided the European Commission with guidance on conducting negotiations. A set of EU briefing notes summarise this guidance. When VPA negotiations end, a ratification process begins. The Council, on behalf of the EU and after it has received the assent of the European Parliament, takes the decision to conclude ratification of a VPA. This decision, together with ratification in the partner country, makes a VPA legally binding.
European Parliament. EU citizens elect the members of the European Parliament, which can influence VPA processes in several ways. The European Parliament reviews proposed VPAs and provides assent for the Council of the European Union to conclude agreements. The European Parliament also reviews progress in implementing VPAs and may scrutinise proposed amendments.
Members of the European Parliament can raise questions to ensure that stakeholders participate in a VPA process and that the process addresses stakeholders' concerns. Members of the European Parliament have also interacted with VPA stakeholders at meetings.
One such meeting was the 2006 hearing on illegal logging, arranged by the European Parliament Committee on Development. Speakers included Silas Siakor (Director of the Sustainable Development Institute, Liberia) and Kyeretwie Opoku (Executive Director of Forest Watch, Ghana). Both Liberia and Ghana have since concluded VPA negotiations with the EU and are now implementing VPAs.
European Commission. The European Commission is the executive wing of the European Union. Among other things, the Commission proposes legislation, such as the FLEGT Regulation and the EU Timber Regulation, for the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament to adopt. The European Commission also leads VPA negotiations on behalf of the EU. The Commission seeks strong, workable VPAs that have broad stakeholder support, that EU member states will accept and that the Council of the European Union can therefore ratify. During VPA processes, the Commission provides updates to the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament.
EU delegations. EU delegations are the official representatives of the EU in partner countries. While the European Commission leads VPA negotiations for the EU, EU delegations take the lead during the implementation phase of a VPA. Representatives of EU delegations may, however, also take part in sessions or joint technical meetings during the negotiating phase.
EU member states
EU member states regularly review progress in negotiations and implementation through working meetings of the Council of the European Union. The European Commission also keeps EU member states informed of developments in a VPA process and often invites member states to attend high-level joint meetings related to a VPA.
In VPA processes to date, representatives of EU member states have also participated in negotiating teams and joint implementation committees. Individual EU member states vary widely in their engagement with VPAs. Factors that affect the level of engagement include:
- Political dynamics in a member state or VPA partner country
- Bilateral relations between a member state and a timber-exporting country
- Whether or not a member state has sea ports that receive large amounts of timber
- Concerns of stakeholders in a member state
- The focus of development assistance programmes in a member state
EU member states also play a critical role in establishing control measures that reinforce the controls introduced by VPA partner countries. Controls include competent authorities to check FLEGT licences, customs clearance procedures and regulatory measures to enforce the receipt of FLEGT licences.
EU private-sector stakeholders
Private-sector stakeholders in the EU include timber importers and traders. The EU Timber Regulation requires such companies to ensure that they do not trade illegally harvested, transported or processed timber. The concerns of EU companies in the timber sector include:
- Risks to their reputation
- Relations with suppliers and customers
- Fair competition
- The overall image of timber
Progressive companies already have systems in place to ensure sustainability and/or legality. Many of the progressive companies belong to national federations that have codes of conduct for members. Other companies are also implementing such systems.
The value of VPAs to the EU private sector is that FLEGT licences provide reassurance that timber has been produced legally. FLEGT licences therefore provide EU importers with a straightforward way of meeting due diligence requirements of the EU Timber Regulation.
EU private-sector stakeholders require a VPA to have credibility and to achieve what it sets out to do because importing illegal timber risks their reputations. FLEGT licensing must deliver in two key areas. First, FLEGT licensing must consistently deliver a steady supply of legal timber. Second, FLEGT licensing must help address governance challenges in supplier countries that result in illegal timber.
Trade associations, such as the European Timber Trade Federation and its membership of national timber trade federations, help European importers to ensure that they source legal material.
In addition to timber importers and traders in the EU, some EU-based companies producing wood and wood products operate in timber-exporting countries. These companies have an interest in the potential of VPAs to level the playing field with competitors by ensuring that laws apply equally to all.
EU civil society organisations
VPAs are of interest to EU civil society organisations that focus on issues such as rights and equity, the environment and climate change, transparency and corruption. Nongovernmental organisations that investigate governance challenges and groups that work on European forest policy also have an interest in VPAs. Such civil society groups influence VPA processes in both the EU and timber-exporting countries by raising issues and proposing solutions. This involvement can contribute to the credibility of VPA processes. EU civil society groups with an interest in VPAs include:
- ClientEarth (www.clientearth.org)
- Environmental Investigation Agency (www.eia-international.org)
- FERN (www.fern.org)
- Forests Monitor (www.forestsmonitor.org)
- Forest Peoples Programme (www.forestpeoples.org)
- Global Witness (www.globalwitness.org)
- Greenpeace (www.greenpeace.org)
- WWF (www.wwf.org.uk)
EU non-profit organisations also support stakeholders in VPA partner countries. Some build the capacity of civil society organisations and private-sector stakeholders in such countries to participate in VPA processes. Some also support VPA stakeholders in these countries to voice their concerns in the EU. Read more about this in the section of VPA Unpacked on support to VPA stakeholders.
EU think tanks
Research by EU-based think tanks on VPAs and wider forest issues informs VPA processes and decisions in the EU and in timber-exporting countries. Think tanks include:
- Chatham House (www.chathamhouse.org)
- Centre de coopération internationale en recherche agronomique pour le développement (CIRAD) (www.cirad.fr)
- International Institute for Environment and Development (www.iied.org)
- Overseas Development Institute (www.odi.org)
- Wageningen University and Research Centre (www.wageningenur.nl)
In addition to EU-based think tanks, institutions in the United States such as Forest Trends (www.forest-trends.org) and the World Resources Institute (www.wri.org) also produce research on VPAs.