Walking all over Indonesia

EU Commission still using illegally traded timber

Feature story - 21 October, 2004
Almost six months ago we revealed that the European Commission's new headquarters were being renovated with suspected illegal Indonesian wood. Embarrassed, it promised a full enquiry, but has yet to conclude any investigation, clean up its buying policy, or ... do anything much at all. Today the headquarters open. Did they really think we'd let them get away with this?

The European Commission's practices are destroying the homes of orang-utans such as these.

"Safeguards are in place to ensure that buildings procured by the Commission do not contain timbers from illegal sources...such as the renovation of the Berlaymont...it makes an explicit requirement ...procure timber only from sustainable sources"

These are the words of Neil Kinnock, Vice President of the EU Commission, in June 2004. If we were to believe him, it would indeed be strange that just days after the initial revelation, our activists observed yet more plywood being delivered to the Berlaymont construction site from the very same suspect Indonesian supplies. And in October 2004 Mr Kinnock seemed to have a bit of a memory lapse about his "explicit requirement" for sustainable sources. He said: "...the Commission is not, at present, in a position to state unequivocally whether any illegally logged wood has been used or not been used in any part of the renovation work."

The 13th Floor - unlucky for some

Well, sorry Mr Kinnock, but we can unequivocally state where your wood comes from. Photographs taken inside the building show the suspect wood being used in flooring and walls, including on the 13th floor, which is devoted to Commissioners' offices including the EU President's office. It seems that 13 certainly is an unlucky number for the poor orang-utans whose homes have ended up as Mr Barroso's floorboards. This suspect timber is supplied by Indonesian logging companies who buy wood illegally from deforested areas which are home to threatened species such as the orang-utan and Sumatran tiger, both predicted to become extinct within a generation if illegal logging continues. Up to 90 percent of logging in Indonesia is illegal.

"The ancient forests of Indonesia deserve better than to end up buried under the floor of the European Union headquarters," said Forest Campaigner Gavin Edwards. "Incoming EU Commission President Barroso will literally be walking all over the home of orang-utans and Sumatran tigers, at a time when they should be stopping illegal timber imports into Europe."

Sweeping the problems under the carpet

Last time around, nearly 4000 people from around the world sent letters to the EU Commissioner for the Environment, Margot Wallström, asking her to make sure this didn't happen again. Her response: absolutely nothing. (But don't worry, we'll give you something to do soon that she can't ignore...) Despite the European Commission's supposed commitment to showing leadership in protecting the world's forests, they are completely failing, to the extent that highly suspicious floorboards lie under the plush carpets in their own buildings. Talk about being right under their nose! It is sadly ironic that as they celebrate the opening of their comfy new offices in Belgium, an area of ancient forest the size of that very country is disappearing worldwide every year.

Please, no more monkey business!

"EU Commission President Barroso will literally be walking all over the home of Orang-utans and Sumatran tigers" - Forest Campaigner Gavin Edwards
The Commission has yet to reform its own purchasing and contracting policy to prevent the Berlaymont situation happening again - they continue to use a lot of legal jargon to blame contractors rather than take any practical steps. They also have no deadline to present a draft law prohibiting imports of illegal timber into Europe, despite requests from the European Parliament and some European countries. Such a law would be the surest way of stopping the EU from consuming illegal timber.

"Failure to introduce legislation prohibiting illegal wood imports is a further blow to the Commission's credibility," said Sebastien Risso of the Greenpeace European Unit. "Mr Barroso's administration must take up where this Commission has lagged behind, rather than carrying on with a business-as-usual approach of buying wood supplied by illegal loggers."

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