Two decades of forest-related legislation changes in European countries analysed from a property rights perspective

Liviu Nichiforel* (Corresponding Author), Philippe Deuffic, Bo Jellesmark Thorsen, Weiss Gerhard , Teppo Hujala, Kevin Keary, Diana Feliciano

*Corresponding author for this work

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In the last two decades, attention on forests and ownership rights has increased in different domains of international policy, particularly in relation to achieving the global sustainable development goals. This paper looks at the changes in forest-specific legislation applicable to regular productive forests, across 28 European countries. We compare the legal framework applicable in the mid-1990s with that applicable in 2015, using the Property Rights Index in Forestry (PRIF) to measure changes across time and space. The paper shows that forest owners in most western European countries already had high decision-making power in the mid-1990s, following deregulation trends from the 1980s; and for the next two decades, distribution of rights remained largely stable. For these countries, the content and direction of changes indicate that the main pressure on forest-focused legislation comes from environmental discourses (e.g. biodiversity and climate change policies). In contrast, former socialist countries in the mid-1990s gave lower decision-making powers to forest owners than in any of the Western Europe countries; over the next 20 years these show remarkable changes in management, exclusion and withdrawal rights. As a result of these changes, there is no longer a clear line between western and former socialist countries with respect to the national governance systems used to address private forest ownership. Nevertheless, with the exception of Baltic countries which have moved towards the western forest governance system, most of the former socialist countries still maintain a state-centred approach in private forest management. Overall, most of the changes we identified in the last two decades across Europe were recorded in the categories of management rights and exclusion rights. These changes reflect the general trend in European forest policies to expand and reinforce the landowners’ individual rights, while preserving minimal rights for other categories of forest users; and to promote the use of financial instruments when targeting policy goals related to the environmental discourse.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102146
JournalForest Policy and Economics
Early online date25 Mar 2020
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2020

Bibliographical note

The study was conducted in the framework of the FP1201 FACESMAP COST Action (Forest Land Ownership Change in Europe: Significance for Management and Policy) which is supported by the EU Framework Programme Horizon 2020. BJT acknowledges the support of the Danish National Research Foundation for the Centre for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate (DNRF96). MH and VJ were supported by NAZV (QK1820041) and grant EVA4.0, No. CZ.02.1.01/0.0/0.0/16_019/0000803 financed by OPRDE. ZS and ZD have been supported by the Slovak Research and Development Agency under the contract no. APVV-15-0715. JN and DN were supported by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development of the Republic of Serbia. SPM was financed by the Research Programs P4 – 0059 of the Slovenian Research Agency. DF acknowledges to Rosario Alves (FORESTIS). SKO acknowledges the Croatian Union of Private Forest Owners' Associations. TS acknowledges Mr. Oikonomou, president of the Greek Private Owners' Association. Open Access for this article was provided by the Estonian University of Life Sciences; Forest Research Institute (IBL, Poland); Norwegian Institute of Bioeconomy Research; Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences; University of Copenhagen; University of Eastern Finland; University of Ljubljana; and University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna (BOKU).


  • forest governance
  • institutional changes
  • property rights
  • PRIF
  • private ownership
  • Institutional changes
  • Property rights
  • Forest governance
  • Private ownership


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