A feature which I soon became aware of when I joined the FAO/ECE secretariat in Geneva in 1959 was the universal spirit of camaraderie and willingness to cooperate among the many delegates and experts taking part in the meetings and other activities. This may have been partly, as foresters often jokingly claim, because of the natural fraternity that exists between foresters worldwide, but another explanation could be that the forestry sector was not, generally speaking, high on the political agenda and did not create tensions between countries. Even if forests and forestry have now become much more transparent to the public and politicians and attract far greater attention than ever before, let us hope that the cooperative spirit that existed in the past will not be lost.
Until the 1970s, forestry in much of Europe had been largely concerned, in practice even if not in theory, with the production of wood. Increasingly, however, other aspects began to come to the fore. With its material needs largely satisfied, Europe's dense and progressively urbanized and wealthy population also began to demand other satisfactions from the forest, notably for recreation and nature conservation, while at the same time becoming more aware of matters concerned with the protection of the environment.
More recently, European foresters, who had believed that they had been doing a reasonable job as stewards of the forest heritage, found themselves being criticized for overemphasizing the wood production role and ignoring the other functions of the forest. While highly competent technically they were often out of their depth when it came to conducting a dialogue with the public and justifying their actions. They also found that they were poorly equipped with the kind of information needed for such a dialogue and for use as a basis for adapting forest practices, where necessary, to encompass multiple forest use. Nevertheless, much more attention has been given in recent years to "environmentally friendly" forest practices and equipment. And forestry has attracted increasing attention at a high political level, notably through the Ministerial Conferences on the Protection of Forests in Europe, the first of which was held in Strasbourg in 1990 and the second in Helsinki in 1993.
European forestry in the 1990s is facing a whole series of new pressures and challenges, as a result of which it is likely to look very different in the twenty-first century from what we see today. One likely change (for better or for worse) may be the decline in the influence which those traditionally concerned with the sector, the foresters themselves, exert on policies and decision-making relating to it. Forestry will become increasingly integrated with other sectors, such as overall land and resource planning, rural development and environmental protection, and "outsiders" will gain a greater control of the forest sector's development. All in all, it is a fascinating time for those who are involved in the process of change. I sometimes wish I were at the start of my career again in order to take part in these exciting events. On reflection, however, I recognize that this is best left to the next generation. While wishing them luck, I shall be happy to remain a deeply interested spectator.