The Malta Independent 22 October 2020, Thursday

New Spring hunting framework: Brussels threatens to fine Malta

Malta Independent Friday, 29 October 2010, 00:00 Last update: about 7 years ago

The European Commission yesterday threatened it would haul Malta before the European Court of Justice for the second time over the contentious spring hunting issue, and warned that this time around it would seek financial penalties if Malta does not take appropriate steps to correct the situation.

Clearly dissatisfied with the spring hunting framework legislation submitted by Malta, aimed at establishing and regulating future spring hunting seasons, the Commission said it was “concerned that new framework legislation seeking to permit spring hunting in future years does not comply with the European Court of Justice ruling.”

Brussels warned yesterday, “…the Commission considers that Malta has not complied with the ruling by the Court of Justice. If the necessary actions are not taken by the Maltese authorities, the Commission may decide to take Malta back to Court to request financial penalties.”

Last year the Court had ruled that Malta had failed to properly implement the Birds Directive by opening the spring hunting seasons for the four years between and including 2004 and 2007. And the Commission is of the opinion that the conditions under which this year’s spring season had been opened had not respected the Court’s ruling.

On the recommendation of Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik, the Commission yesterday issued a Letter of Formal Notice under ongoing infringement proceedings.

In a statement yesterday, the government insisted it had abided by the Court’s ruling, and that it would “continue its dialogue with the Commission to understand any concerns which the Commission might still have.”

In September 2009, the Court of Justice ruled that Malta, by permitting the spring hunting of turtle doves and quails in for the four years between and including 2004 and 2007, had failed to properly implement the Birds Directive The Court had expressed particular concerns about proportionality.

In April 2010, Malta informed the Commission about the adoption of framework legislation that would permit the spring hunting in future years of a maximum of 25,000 birds - 12,000 quail and 13,000 turtle doves - with a three-week hunting season.

That limit, the Commission said yesterday had not been in line with the principle of proportionality. The Commission said, “An in-depth appraisal has led the Commission to conclude that the principle of proportionality is not being respected in Malta’s plans. The Birds Directive effectively bans spring hunting to protect birds during their most vulnerable period. The Court of Justice ruled that any derogation from this ban must be proportionate with the overall conservation objectives of the Birds Directive.”

The Commission said it was concerned that the framework for Malta’s spring hunting legislation for future years does not comply with the Court ruling because it fails to fully address the principle of proportionality.

The government, however, explained yesterday how, “The Commission claims that the Framework Regulations are not in compliance with the principle of proportionality as upheld by the Court in its ruling. The Commission also makes reference to a three-week hunting season permitted by these Regulations.

“In fact, the Regulations specify that ‘the spring hunting season, shall be a maximum of three weeks in April of the year for which the Minister may decide to open the spring hunting season by means of a notice in the Gazette’. Moreover, these Regulations stipulate that when setting the bag limit for a possible spring hunting season, the minister shall take ‘into consideration changes to the conservation status of the two species’.

“These provisions therefore reflect the principle of proportionality as established by the Court.”

BirdLife Malta yesterday pointed out how the Commission is obliging Malta to take into consideration the autumn hunting season, during which both birds may be hunted for a five month period in Malta.

It said that data from the Carnet de Chasse, a register of birds hunted during a season, recently released by Mepa shows that following the ban on spring hunting in 2008 the number of quail shot that autumn equalled those shot the following spring – demonstrating that there are sufficient numbers of this species to shoot in autumn.

As such, the maximum number of birds which Malta has permitted to be hunted in spring has also been objected to by the Commission on the grounds that it does not maintain the populations of the species at a satisfactory level.

The Commission yesterday outlined three main reasons why it believes the principle of proportionality has not been addressed: there is no obligation to consider the conservation status of the species in question when setting bag limits; there is no provision to consider the possibilities for autumn hunting in that year before opening a spring season; and the maximum limits established in the legislation do not suffice to ensure the maintenance of the population of the species concerned at a satisfactory level.

Welcoming the development yesterday, BirdLife Malta president Joseph Mangion commented, “In its Letter of Formal Notice, the European Commission is obliging Malta to take into consideration the conservation status of the two species – threatening Malta with legal action again. As we have consistently pointed out, it is not the status of the species at an international level that is of importance in this case, but its European conservation status.”

BLM pointed out how, in addition to other conditions, the Commission’s own guidance document on the Birds Directive states that no derogations may be applied for Species of Conservation Concern in Europe – a status applied to both turtle doves and common quail due to their continuing population declines at a European level.

“The Commission’s latest action shows that, as expected, Malta’s continuing persistence in opening a spring hunting season is being addressed at the very highest levels of the European Commission, and again brings Malta one step closer to the European Court of Justice.”

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