The European Commission has recently reiterated in a very clear manner its position on Malta’s finch trapping derogation, claiming once again that Malta has no justification for it. It also made it clear that legal action has in fact been initiated and insisted that Malta needs to be reminded that it had agreed to phase out trapping within five years of joining the European Union (EU), as stated in Malta’s Accession Treaty itself.
This was the outcome of a high-level conference on “Hunting under the Birds Directive: An open debate on the state of play”, hosted on 25th February 2021 by the European Parliament’s Intergroup on “Biodiversity, Hunting, Countryside” in conjunction with the European Federation for Hunting and Conservation (FACE).
Malta’s EU Accession Treaty was clear that trapping had to be phased out
The debate also tackled the issue of derogations. Deputy Head of the Nature Unit in the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Environment Dr Micheal O’Briain was very critical of Malta’s approach to derogations, mentioning that legal actions against Mata have commenced and justice would take its course. Dr O’Briain explained that he was heavily involved in drafting the Accession Treaty for Malta and reminded how Malta was the only country that ever got a transition period to align with the EU’s Birds Directive. In fact, it was Malta’s responsibility to ensure – as agreed at accession – that after five years of phasing out trapping, there will be no further trapping.
He also explained that while the initial derogations were already found to be illegal by the European Court of Justice (ECJ), now Malta is trying the scientific approach. This approach, while raising several doubts on its scientific value, could have only taken place during the phasing-out period. Dr O’Briain continued to explain that tradition cannot be a justification to breach EU directives and insisted that the European Commission acts against all countries fairly as it has done with other countries like France and Spain.
BirdLife Europe’s Senior Head of Policy Mr Ariel Brunner insisted that in light of the crisis of loss of bird species in Europe he expects the hunting fraternity to play their part in working to change anything that is harming birds like wrong agriculture policy and loss of habitat. On the contrary, what we are witnessing is a lot of whining because countries are being asked to observe the European Birds Directive.
He reminded that sustainable hunting is the taking of the increment of species’ figures and hence species that have declined should not be hunted. He emphasised the fact that hunters should be more disciplined to become credible in collecting data of amounts being hunted, something which has been abused and failing for decades. He stated that the onus is on the hunters to prove they are hunting sustainably and if they do not know the amounts being harvested, then the claim of sustainable hunting remains fiction.
BirdLife Malta has always been advocating on the same lines as Dr O’Briain’s and Mr Brunner’s points and it welcomes the recent developments by the Directorate-General for Environment within the European Commission with great satisfaction. BirdLife Malta CEO Mark Sultana stated: “Malta has been abusing from the European Birds Directive for a number of years. This, together with the fact that – unlike what some claim – Malta has failed to control hunting and trapping activities, and with enforcement now practically inexistent and rampant illegalities on the increase, is a disgrace. We keep on insisting with the Prime Minister to take the direction and ethos of the European Green Deal seriously and stop further derogations. If this plea continues to fall on deaf ears, we expect the European Commission to continue with the Infringement Procedures to bring Malta in line with the EU Directives for the benefit of the Maltese citizens and Europe in general.”
A video on finch trapping that was aired during last week’s open debate was heavily criticised by Dr Micheal O’Briain from the European Commission and by Mr Ariel Brunner from BirdLife Europe as biased propaganda. In their interventions, they both declared that it is disappointing to see such a debate being hijacked by propaganda of an activity which the European Union is challenging at the moment.
Read the Maltese version of the press release here.