With the month of April and the once traditional opening of the spring hunting season imminent, the government intends to attempt opening the spring season again this year. The decision will, however, be met immediately with an application by the European Commission to the European Court of Justice for another interim measure banning the government from opening the season.
With the Ornis Committee on Tuesday refraining from making a recommendation to the government one way or another on the issue, the matter has bounced back into the prime minister’s court.
Contacted yesterday about the government’s intentions for the spring season once the Ornis Committee failed to make a recommendation, a spokesperson for the Office of the Prime Minister commented, “the government sees no new developments that warrant any change in the position taken last year.”
In other words, the government, apparently positioned somewhere between a rock and a hard place on the highly contentious issue, intends attempting to open the season once again, in line with its 2003 electoral and EU referendum promises made to hunters.
The government is at odds with the European Commission over the issue, and is battling it out before the European Court of Justice. The Commission contends Malta has violated the EU’s birds directive by opening the spring season every year since Malta’s EU accession, with the exception of last year when it was banned by the Courts.
The last spring season was opened on 10 April 2007, only to be cut short by the government following an alleged massacre of protected birds.
The Commission had sent Malta a reasoned opinion in October 2007, in which it called on Malta not to permit spring hunting of turtle dove and quail for 2008.
But in the government’s response, filed in January last year, Malta did not commit itself to prohibiting spring hunting. As such, the Commission referred the case to the ECJ and requested the Court to issue an interim measure against the government prohibiting it from opening the season.
The interim measure was issued in April, and prevented the government from issuing a legal notice to open the spring hunting season.
In a recent response to a European parliamentary question, EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas explained that the Commission considers last year’s interim measure as having set a “clear precedent” for spring hunting in Malta for the subsequent years.
He added, “Accordingly, the Commission would again apply to the Court for interim measures should Malta permit the hunting of birds during the spring period in 2009.”
He also confirmed that the main case over the principle of spring hunting is still to be heard by the Court, and that only the decision on the application for interim measures has been taken so far.
Rulings from the ECJ generally take between 18 months and two years to be decided, meaning a Court ruling could perhaps be in hand by this time next year.