EU expansion will make the European forestry sector stronger but will also create challenges, the first Forest Academy Finland forum has heard.

The forum, involving 25 key forest sector decision makers from acceding countries and Finland, heard the EU‘s forest area will grow by 21% and growing stock by 35% after the expansion next year.

Peter Csóka, director-general of the Hungarian State Forest Service, said enlargement provided an opportunity for rural development and forest industry growth, especially as new member countries were strong roundwood exporters.

But he added: “Key issues of policy development are to reform the role of state forest administrations and to define the role and duties of private forest owners.”

Paula Lehtomäki, Finland’s minister for foreign trade and development, stressed the need for the forest sector to take part in policy co-ordination and the decision-making progress.

The academy, hosted by the Finnish ministry of agriculture and forestry, was set up to support the EU’s commitment to sustainable forest management and to create a mutual exchange of views on forestry’s role in socio-economic development, particularly in acceding EU countries. If successful, the pilot forum will be followed by up to four additional events during 2004.