The Finch Trap: Commission vs. Malta – BirdLife Europe

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The Finch Trap: European Commission vs. Malta - BirdLife EuropeBirdLife Europe has said that the European Court of Justice (ECJ) will on Wednesday 15th February hear the case initiated by the European Commission against Malta regarding finch trapping in the Maltese Islands. It is probable that the verdict in this case will be delivered by the third or fourth quarter of this year.

BirdLife Europe in a statement today, went on to say that the European Commission officially referred Malta to the ECJ in September 2015, after the Maltese Government ignored its formal warnings as part of an Infringement Procedure started in 2014. “According to an article published in the media today, the Maltese government had also ignored legal warnings by the Attorney General when it reintroduced finch trapping in 2014.”

When Malta joined the EU in 2004, a ban on finch trapping was one of the conditions of the accession treaty. The Government agreed to gradually phase out trapping for finches over a five year period till 2009 in line with the treaty, BirdLife Europe said.

It stated that, “in 2014 the practice was reintroduced with the Government going backwards on the phasing out period negotiated with the EU and applied a derogation.”

“Despite a series of warnings the Maltese Government opened yet another finch trapping season in 2015 and this led the European Commission to announce in September 2015 that it will be taking Malta to the European Court of Justice for allowing finch trapping against EU law.”

“The Government of Malta once again ignored this legal challenge and persisted in opening even last year’s finch trapping season,” said BirdLife Europe.

“The Maltese Government in 2014 reintroduced the trapping of seven species of wild finches on the assumption that it can justly derogate from EU law in a similar fashion to spring hunting, BirdLife Europe said.

“This is because an article in the EU Birds’ Directive allows EU member states to make an exception from the ban “where there is no other satisfactory solution…to permit, under strictly supervised conditions and on a selective basis, the capture, keeping or other judicious use of certain birds in small numbers.”

However, it added, the European Commission has argued that the traditional Maltese use of clap nets is “non-selective,” and that trapping birds for leisure does not constitute a “judicious” reason to derogate, and there are suitable alternatives.

BirdLife Europe and Central Asia said that it remains concerned about “the validity of both derogations being currently applied in Malta – one for the trapping of seven species of finch (Linnet, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Hawfinch, Serin, Chaffinch and Siskin) and the other for the trapping of Golden Plover and Song Thrush.”

Ariel Brunner, Senior Head of EU Policy, BirdLife Europe & Central Asia said, “we are very concerned about the reinstatement of finch trapping in Malta. Finch trapping season is not in line with the Birds Directive and Malta is making a mockery of the terms of their accession treaty.

“Even more concerning is the fact that despite the legal action taken by the European Commission the Maltese Government decided to reopen another trapping season in 2016. This was the third season in breach of the European Birds’ Directive (2014, 2015 and 2016 seasons).”

Brunner concluded by saying that “we support the action being pursued by the European Commission but would like to make it clear that while this case is against the country of Malta, it is evident that thanks to the efforts of BirdLife Malta, the people of Malta have an increasing environmental conscience on trapping and hunting issues, with this practice being carried out and agreed upon only by a small fraction of Maltese citizens.”

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