Following fresh legal action by the EC, Government should close smokescreen ‘research’ trapping season immediately

November 12, 2021 12:46 pm

Following the legal action announced today against Malta by the European Commission (EC) in regard to the smokescreen finch trapping ‘research’ derogation, the Maltese Government has no other option than to immediately close the ongoing trapping season disguised as a scientific study.

European Commission sends clear message that it will not be fooled, takes Malta to the European Court of Justice

Illegal trapping site (Photo by BirdLife Malta)

The latest developments in response to PM Robert Abela’s decision to ignore previous warnings were inevitable. It was a question of when, not if. BirdLife Malta had warned the Government to end this charade, but instead of doing what was obvious, when the infringement process was escalated, the Prime Minister gave in to the trapping lobby and to Minister Clint Camilleri’s demands and continued to challenge the Commission. Now that the European Commission has announced it will be once again taking Malta to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) over the trapping derogation, the Government only has itself to blame.

Today’s legal action is the last step in the infringement proceedings initiated by the Commission last December over the opening of a finch trapping season under the false guise of ‘scientific research’. This season was opened for the first time in 2020 and the Government forged ahead and reopened it again this autumn for the second consecutive year despite the open Infringement Procedure.

Following the first two warnings, today’s legal action was inevitable. Government will now have to try to defend the indefensible at the ECJ once again

At the end of last year the EC sent a Letter of Formal Notice to the Maltese Government about this practice, stating that the Government was circumventing the ECJ 2018 judgement by permitting trapping of finches in similar conditions as before the ruling, but under the guise of a new derogation. On that occasion the EC had also kicked off infringements on the other ongoing trapping and hunting derogations in Malta, namely the trapping of Golden Plover and Song Thrush, and the Quail spring hunting derogation.

In regard to the finch trapping derogation, responses from the Government to justify that it was a ‘research’ project failed, and in June 2021 the Commission took its action a step further, issuing a second warning in the form of a Reasoned Opinion, giving the Government a month to remedy the situation or potentially face the prospect of another case at the European Court. At the time the Commission had stated: “A shortened deadline aims to prevent serious and irreversible damage to the environment, in case the Republic of Malta intends to open yet another trapping season”. While the writing was on the wall, a defiant Government in fact reopened, for the second consecutive year, a finch trapping ‘research’ season in the face of the Commission’s warnings.

Linnet in a cage. Photo by Nicholas Barbara

After the Government once again ignored this second formal warning, the Commission had no other option but to take the infringement case to the next and final level, referring Malta to the ECJ.

This will be the second legal action taken against Malta in regard to trapping following the landmark ruling delivered in 2018 on the initial trapping derogation which found Malta guilty of infringing the European Birds Directive when it allowed finch trapping to reopen in previous years despite the commitment to have it phased out when Malta joined the European Union (EU).

Closing the season with immediate effect in view of today’s decision would bring to a stop the killing of thousands of finches under the excuse of ‘research’. Finches are protected species across the EU while the European Birds Directive prohibits trapping of birds. Taking this step would also at least save face for Malta’s reputation in scientific research – a reputation which has been tarnished with the Government’s description of its authorisation of over 2,500 trapping sites across private, public and Natura 2000 sites as a ‘research project’.

One also has to keep in mind the way this year’s derogation was applied, with the Framework Law allowing the finch trapping ‘research’ derogation issued just a few hours before the start of the season on the 20th of October, a week after last year’s regulations were repealed. Whilst many had wondered what the real intentions behind this move were, it later become clear that this was nothing but a ploy to seemingly circumvent the possibility of the EC taking Malta once again to the ECJ, thus forcing the Commission to restart a new Infringement Procedure from scratch and buying more time for the Maltese Government. Today, however, the European Commission has sent a clear message that it won’t be fooled by such manoeuvres.

The Commission in fact has today clearly stated: “Although Malta repealed the incriminated legislation in early October, it did not allay the Commission’s concerns: the trapping licences for the 2021 season had already been issued on the basis of the repealed 2020 framework, and new rules have been swiftly adopted with only minor changes compared to the previous legal regime. The Commission therefore considers the reply by the Maltese authorities to both the Letter of Formal Notice and the Reasoned Opinion as unsatisfactory, and is therefore referring Malta to the Court of Justice of the European Union“.

In regard to the new framework law, BirdLife Malta had also filed a Judicial Protest against the Government calling for its revocation since it was enacted without the mandatory four-week public consultation as stipulated by Malta’s Environment Protection Act.

Read the Maltese version of the press release here.

You can also read the decision by the European Commission to refer Malta to the ECJ over finch trapping which was announced today here.