In recent years, the European Union has intensified efforts to address environmental and social changes through various policies and regulations. All framed under the New Green Deal, these include the Circular Economy Action Plan, the Biodiversity Strategy, the Farm to Fork Strategy, the Forest Strategy, and the European Climate Law. Though not all policies directly target the forest sector, its vital role in achieving overarching goals is widely acknowledged, emphasizing the importance of economic support for the sector.
The main European instrument supporting forest sector funding is the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development. However, bureaucratic constraints limit fund disbursement in some countries. Recently, a potential new tool has emerged: the NextGenerationEU. In 2020, the EU allocated substantial funds to support Member States’ economic recovery after the COVID-19 pandemic, steering towards a greener, digital, and more resilient Europe. NextGenerationEU funds, provided as loans and grants, are distributed to Member States upon approval of their National Recovery and Resilience Plans (NRRP). The European Commission evaluates whether the NRRP aligns with program objectives before approving it, allowing for the initial fund transfer.
This study aimed to analyse whether and how the forest sector was included in the NRRP given its relevance in supporting the meet European environmental policies’ targets. The percentage of funds allocated to the sector through this new funding source have been examined and which specific forest-related themes have been identified.
Results revealed that, out of the 26 analysed Plans, only four did not mention the forest sector. In the remaining 22 the sector was mentioned although not explicitly indicated by the European Commission. Moreover, in one-third of the analysed countries, the percentage of funds allocated for implementing NRRP measures was examined, ranging from 0.18% to 7.41% of total funds.
Twelve specific forest-related themes present in the NRRP have been identified. Prominent among these are actions related to Biodiversity, Climate Adaptation, Provision of Forest Ecosystem Services, Climate Mitigation, Rural Development, and Innovation. These themes align perfectly with European environmental policies and policy targets.
A clusters analysis, based on the mentioned forest-related themes, has been implemented. The analysis identified three groups characterized by the presence or absence of the innovation forest-related theme.
Cluster 1 – Traditional and inward-looking countries. | Cluster characterised by countries that do not explicitly mention innovation within their forest sector and that allocate plan funds to actions or strategies that impact more on the local/national scale.
Cluster 2 – Innovative countries supporting a more traditional forestry. | Cluster characterised by countries that will to address innovation to support more traditional FES: provisioning of wood-related FES, improving their production and innovating processes and technologies.
Cluster 3 – Innovative countries supporting forest multifunctionality. | Cluster characterised by countries that will to address innovation to support forest multifunctionality: regulating and cultural FES.
In conclusion, this study, confirms the importance of the sector as a relevant opportunity for the process of economic recovery, with most of the Member States mentioning it and planning specific actions. Additionally, the identification and analysis of forest-related themes confirm the presence of context-specific problems and potential solutions. Knowing which are the possible allocations of NRRPs funds can support the understanding on which are the more pressing problems MS are facing and the priorities they are giving to the non-ordinary policy actions. Finally, it is essential to underline that the outcomes of the research and specifically, of the cluster analysis, do not pretend to characterise the whole policies of the EU MS but want to describe how NRRP funds are allocated considering the contingent needs for investing in a non-ordinary area of policy action. The article provides more detailed results.