Tuesday, 27 March 2012

The EU keeps an eye on Malta as spring hunting season approaches

European Commission officials are expecting Malta to “stick strictly” to EU rules when it comes to the imminent spring hunting season and are keeping a watchful eye on the decisions the authorities are set to take in the coming days, according to a Commission spokesman in Brussels.

Peter Coller said that The European Commission is “closely following” the matter to ensure all the provisions of the Birds Directive and the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling against Malta in 2009 will be respected.

The news comes as the European Parliament’s Petitions Committee this week decided to keep open all six anti-hunting petitions put on the meeting’s agenda.

The petitions, submitted by non-Maltese EU citizens, urge the Commission to “stop the slaughter and massacre of birds in Malta” during the migration season. The committee is keeping them active “awaiting developments”.

Maltese bird hunters
Peter Coller added that the ECJ’s judgement left open the possibility of a “limited spring hunting season” in Malta, so long as the directive’s provisions were respected. “With regard to this year’s possible spring hunting season, the Commission has already been informed that the Maltese government intends to follow the rules and procedures established by the ECJ”, he told MEPs on the committee.

Mr Coller said that, although the Commission was of the view that the general legislative framework in place in Malta was “a significant step forward”, it was evident more enforcement was needed to better supervise the strict conditions of the hunting season.
It is clear that there has been some progress in recent years in terms of enforcement and supervision, but there is still room for further improvement. This is also the opinion of International Animal Rescue in Malta.

On behalf of all petitioners, Jean Claude Larive from the Belgian Royal Society for the Protection of Birds took the Commission to task saying Maltese authorities were trying to “kid” the EU authorities on this issue.

“It appears Malta has no intention and no will to end the massacre of migratory birds. They are just trying to gain time and keep the hunters happy,” he claimed.

“We are asking the Commission to be very firm with Malta on this issue and ensure it abides by all its undertakings,” he said.

Although no details have been released on this year’s spring hunting season, the issue is already heating up, with a number of environmental groups accusing the government of trying to appease the hunting lobby by relaxing the strict rules of last year’s limited hunting season.

In 2011, the government allowed a limited hunting season between April 13 and 30 with a maximum hunting quota of 2,500 quails and 9,000 turtle doves. Hunters were only allowed to catch one bird a day and to send an SMS to the authorities every time they caught a bird.

In a press statement BirdLife Malta stated that Ornis Committee chairman Louis Cilia was this year proposing the spring quota be set at the maximum permissible number for turtle doves and quail; the extension of the season by three days compared to 2011; and the complete removal of the daily bag limits previously established as a strict supervision condition.

In view of these proposals, International Animal Rescue Malta is in full support of BirdLife Malta’s call for Mr Cilia to resign. Alternattiva Demokratika, the Maltese Green Party is also insiting that he should resign. Mr Cilia stated yesterday that he is prepared to resign only if asked to do so by the Government.

A government official would only state that the government has not yet taken a decision on the Ornis recommendations.

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Friday, 2 March 2012

EU Commissioner warns Malta against bird trapping

Commissioner for the Environment Janez Potocnik has informed the Malta government that there is no reason to allow bird trapping to continue in Malta and threatened to take the country back in front of the European Court of Justice if it isn’t stopped.

Malta has two months to reply to his Reasoned Opinion. A failure to comply means the Commission may refer the case to the EU Court of Justice.

Song birds in cages are used as decoys
The Commission explained that in Europe, most wild birds are protected under the Birds Directive, and trapping with large-scale or non-selective methods of capture such as nets is generally prohibited and may only be legally practised under a derogation from the Directive. Such exceptions may only be granted if there is no viable alternative, if the Member State respects the strict conditions and requirements laid down in Article 9 of the Directive, and if it can prove to the Commission that it has done so.

In June 2011 the Commission sent Malta a letter of formal notice, in which it aired its concern regarding the incorrect application of derogations allowing bird trapping. The Commission confirmed that Malta had failed to submit sufficient evidence to prove that its trapping derogations respected all the necessary conditions of the Directive. It mentioned in particular the rules relating to “ensuring only small numbers of birds are captured”; “selective targeting of the species concerned by the derogation”, and “strict supervision of trapping conditions.”

In its reply the Maltese Government refuted the Commission's claims and insisted that the conditions for the application of the derogation were met. In 2011 Malta also changed the derogation so that it applied to only one species, the Song Thrush. However, the Commission is still of the opinion that Malta has failed to produce satisfactory supporting evidence and has applied the derogations incorrectly.

The Malta Government continues to argue against the claims, saying it will reply to the Reasoned Opinion and will also continue to engage in discussions with the Commission.

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