EU Commission takes Malta to Court over spring hunting

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BirdLifeBirdLife International and BirdLife Malta have said that they welcome today’s decision by the European Commission to take Malta to the European Court of Justice, regarding the practice of spring hunting and trapping of wild birds, which is illegal under EU law. Every spring since its accession to the EU in 2004, Malta has permitted hunting and trapping of Turtle Dove (Streptopelia turtur) and Common Quail (Coturnix coturnix), in direct contravention of the EU Birds Directive.

“Unfortunately, the Maltese government has missed many opportunities in the past to solve this case and to avoid European wide embarrassment for the country” said Konstantin Kreiser, EU Policy Manager at BirdLife in Brussels. “Therefore, we can only welcome the Commission’s decision to take Malta to Court now.”

In light of the recent development, BirdLife called on the Maltese government to respond to the Commission’s actions by officially declaring the end of spring hunting in Malta, for 2008 and beyond.

“If the Maltese government opens another spring hunting season this year, BirdLife will urge the European Commission to ask the European Court of Justice for an immediate order,” Kreiser concluded.

Based on a complaint by BirdLife, the Commission had started legal action against Malta in 2006 and issued a final warning in the form of a Reasoned Opinion last October, urging the Maltese government to stop spring hunting once and for all. In the absence of a satisfactory reply from Malta the Commission eventually decided to take the country to the European Court today.

Throughout the European Union the EU Birds Directive protects birds by banning hunting during their spring migration back from Africa to their breeding grounds. Member States can apply derogations under certain conditions, of which the most important one is the absence of an alternative solution. In Malta’s case the Commission concluded that such an alternative is provided by the possibility to hunt the species in autumn.

The Maltese Islands are located on an important bird migration route in the Mediterranean. A recent study analysing the ring recoveries in Malta showed that birds originating from a minimum of thirty-six European countries fly over Malta each year.

Referring to the upcoming national elections in Malta, Joseph Mangion, President of BirdLife Malta, added:

“Both Prime Minister Dr. Lawrence Gonzi and the Leader of the Opposition Dr. Alfred Sant should declare now that they will not open a spring hunting season again. The overwhelming majority of the Maltese people believe that spring hunting should end, and that the government needs to stop this European wide embarrassment for our country.”

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