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And so it goes on

The so-called EU Birds Directive (79/409/EEC) is at the centre of the ongoing and, understandably, relentless controversial debate on spring hunting. In a nutshell, this is aimed at controlling the number of birds from the wild. Article 9 of this directive provides for the possibility of a derogation under the said directive. In simple terms (and forgive my patronising, but the issue has been so unnecessarily complicated) a derogation is an exception to the rule.

The document on the European Union Common Position with regard to the Environment (chapter 22) established at the Conference on Malta's accession to the European Union, held in Brussels on September 22, 2002 (CONF-M 110/02) reads (and I will be quoting parts of it extensively):

"... the EU notes that Malta indicates that spring is the main hunting period" and that "The EU takes note of Malta's statement that it will limit the taking in spring to only two species (Streptopelia turtur [turtle dove] and Coturnix coturnix [quail]) as an application of the derogation under article 9 of the directive".

Further:

"Considering Malta's location on the migratory routes of bird species and its particular responsibility for protecting migratory species, the EU urges Malta to take all necessary measures, such as ensuring the adequate administrative capacity and sufficient legal instruments, to curb illegal hunting and hunting and capture methods prohibited under the acquis, and to report annually to the Commission on the application of the transitional measure and on progress achieved."

Further still:

"As regards the possible use of the derogation under article 9, the EU notes, as is recognised by the directive, that because of the importance which may be attached to certain specific situations, the acquis makes provision for the possibility of a derogation under certain conditions set out in the directive and subject to monitoring by the Commission."

I hope I have not bored readers, but it is essential that the whole issue of hunting is put in its proper context. No, I have not joined the hunting lobby. In fact, I am now firmly entrenched in the anti-hunting lobby.

However, this is not a question of pro or anti-hunting. In fact, really and truly, it is not essentially a hunting issue at all. It is a political issue. It is an issue on which a clear stand has been taken by the Nationalist government and the real substance of which has been conveniently ignored, and even deliberately confused, by the Labour Party.

Prior to the referendum on EU membership, Malta's position on hunting was made clear to the EU and this position (that is, the use of the derogation allowed by the Birds Directive) was acknowledged by the Union, subject to the conditions which attached to it.

This is amply clear from the official document quoted above. No accusations of secret agreements will change this.

This document is and was available to all. One may say that Malta has not complied with certain conditions contemplated by article 9, but no one can say that Malta's right to a derogation was not recognised by the EU.

So much for the political, and, indeed, legal position. Now the local scene and the manipulation of the hunting issue.

Who are the manipulators? First and foremost, the MLP which, as is its now well known stance, sits cowardly on the fence, basking in the government's discomfort and unpopularity, where the masses are concerned. And by masses I mean the sort of thugs who invaded Valletta and beat up journalists (indeed, that lot seem to have gotten away with it - only those with minor offences got caught) and the vandals who threw oil into the Ghadira nature reserve and sprayed graffiti in the area in the vicinity of the world's oldest free standing structures. These are the people whom Labour are pandering.

But then when it comes to national public exposure on the media Labour becomes holier-than-thou. Alfred Sant, Jason Micallef and co. solemnly declare that now that Malta is a full ("shih" - as if that description is necessary at all) member of the European Union, a future Labour government (my, my!) will respect, abide by, obey, submit to, follow - and whatever else - all EU directives, regulations, bye-laws and what else to the full, whether these refer to hunting or otherwise. So the halos are then brought out.

Asked if a Labour government would allow spring hunting, absolute silence, and then a full repetition of the above solemn declaration. It is well known that those who sit on thin fences with one leg on each side will feel particularly uncomfortable sooner rather than later and, as a result, will fall off. The MLP will fall off on the wrong side.

There are also culprits in all this story and these are those who refuse to recognise the true position vis-à-vis the hunting issue, as laid out in the first part of this article. If they took some time out to bother to examine the truth, then they would think otherwise than they are thinking and not boycott elections as a protest against hunting practices. The whole issue is not about hunting. Hunting is one thing, a political obligation another. If they want to protest against hunting they should organise a demonstration in Valletta (I would be there) and write in the papers, as they are doing.

Not to vote is a dereliction of duty and a disservice to one's country and, in fact, can be described as a cowardly act. I would not go as far as legislating to the effect that he who does not vote commits a criminal offence (as some countries do). This would smack of a breach of one's freedom of expression. But I am not far off.

So vote for that party that has the best package of electoral proposals, that party that has the best track record, that party that has the best talent within its ranks. No package is perfect.

Any member of the electorate who accepts one party's proposals fully and unconditionally, without one question mark, is a moron; one of those party faithful with blinkers all the way round (who probably should not be given a vote anyway). One votes for a package which has a number of proposals that one deems to be in the best interest of the country and of oneself, of course. One will surely disagree with some proposals.

This is exactly what happened in the EU referendum. And here I refer to a recent editorial in this newspaper (March 13) which said exactly the opposite of what a mature, democratic-minded person should say and, in a nutshell, that many of those who voted "yes" voted so because they wanted to join the European Union at all costs, but were not happy with that part of the negotiated package on hunting (that is, on the very spring hunting we are dealing with) and are now irritated when the government keeps saying that it is implementing the mandate it was given in the referendum (and in the elections shortly after, do not forget).

The leader writer must be suggesting that the government should now pick and choose, implementing some and discarding other parts of the package for which it was given an overall mandate? He (or she) agrees that the spring hunting provisions of the agreement with the EU were part of the overall package, but then holds that the government was not given a mandate to implement these provisions. With all due respect, "Total nonsense, dear Sir".

If all these non-voters did not vote in the recent local elections because of the hunting issue (which was not the case - Swieqi's issue was purely the one-way traffic system, for example), why did they vote for the hunting issue as part of the referendum package? They knew the issue was there. They weighed the pros and cons and decided that the pros were far more important. What they hoped (and some of the arrogant ones expected) was that what the government had negotiated and what they had voted for (that is, given a mandate for) would not be implemented.

We wish we could pick and choose parts and discard other parts of an electoral package, but that is not life; it is not reality. Perhaps these non-voters wish us to reach the stage where we sit for hours in a polling booth examining the parties' electoral manifestos ticking the various proposals they contain. Then, of course, the Electoral Commission would spend weeks before announcing a result, so as to collate the various chapters, articles, sub-articles, paragraphs, sub-paragraphs, clauses and sub-clauses in the electoral manifestos to see which manifesto has the greatest overall number of ticks!

Yes, the government has a mandate to implement the spring hunting part of its referendum package. This spring hunting position was also recognised by the European Union. The indefatigable Minister George Pullicino, as the government guy in charge of the sector, has the unenviable task of implementing this part of the mandate. He is doing and will continue to do so, without fear or favour. The electorate bound him to do so twice in 2003. But then, after all, if you do not want to vote Nationalist do not. You can always vote Labour if you know what their position on anything, let alone hunting, is, or, perhaps, not even knowing it. Put on the blinkers and have fun! I suppose life will go on.

Editor's note:
While acknowledging Dr Sammut's right to express his opinion, irrespective of whether one agrees with it or not, he is kindly invited to revisit the editorial in question to see exactly what The Times was saying. He should also revisit the leader of March 23.

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