Search for derogation

I wish to shoot down two misconceptions that I personally had and which, I presume, other voters may have. Firstly that Malta had negotiated a derogation of the Birds Directive during negotiations of our Accession Treaty and, secondly, that such a derogation was confirmed by means of the September 2009 European Court of Justice ruling allowing for a spring hunting season in Malta.

My quest for the truth first landed me on the Birds Directive. I discovered that the actual name is the Directive on the Conservation of Wild Birds, conservation being the keyword repeated several times in a very clearly spelled out directive.

One of the articles is the following emphatic requirement that has been placed on member states: “They shall see in particular that the species to which hunting laws apply are not hunted during the rearing season or during the various stages of reproduction.”

Bang, there it was. An emphatic prohibition of hunting during the rearing season (spring) for all species of birds, even those for which hunting is allowed as their species is not at risk of extinction.

I looked for the derogation, just like the increasing seagulls in Sa Maison or the lone Flamingo at Salini (ever wondered why in Trapani, Sicily there is such a huge colony of flamingos but no such occurrence in Malta?), and found the oft-quoted article 9(1) which states that:

“Member states may derogate (...), where there is no other satisfactory solution, for the following reasons:

“(a) in the interests of public health and safety, in the interests of air safety, to prevent serious damage to crops, livestock, forests, fisheries and water, for the protection of flora and fauna;

(b) for the purposes of research and teaching, of repopulation, of reintroduction and for the breeding necessary for these purposes;

(c) to permit, under strictly supervised conditions and on a selective basis, the capture, keeping or other judicious use of certain birds in small numbers.”

No need to be an ornithologist to realise that the shooting of quails and turtle doves during the crucial stage of reproduction, when they are migrating to their rearing ground, does not fall under any of the above possibilities to derogate. No air safety issues, no research, no capture in small numbers when the two species of birds are killed in Malta in spring.

We have been sold the fable for far too long that patriotic Malta won a derogation to hunt in spring

So, if it is not permitted by article 9, there has to be some special derogation that was obtained during our negotiations with the EU but that claim was dismissed by the European Court.

In fact, the Court found, in paragraph 67 of its judgment, that it was not apparent from the documents produced that Malta was assured, during the negotiations prior to its accession to the European Union, that it would be able to continue to authorise hunting of turtle doves and quails in spring.

We have been sold the fable for far too long that patriotic Malta has stood its ground and valiantly won a derogation to hunt in spring.

I was forced to look deeper into the European Court ruling to somewhere find an explanation as to how article 9 is invoked in Malta but, to my surprise and a reminder of how perceptions devoid of facts obfuscate one’s better judgement, I found out that the Court had, in fact, found against Malta.

Yes, the judgment found that the opening of a hunting season in Malta for quails (Coturnix coturnix) and turtle doves (Streptopelia turtur) during the spring migration period in the years 2004 to 2007 was not in compliance with the conditions laid down in article 9(1) of the Directive on the Conservation of Wild Birds and ordered Malta to pay the costs.

So, not only are our taxes used for the monitoring of the spring hunting season or to protect the lone flamingo at Salini before it gets gunned down in the middle of the night. Our taxes were also squandered to pay the costs for having lost the Court case as Malta was found to be in breach of the Directive on the Conservation of Wild Birds.

My vote for the ‘No to spring hunting’ is driven primarily by my desire that wild birds are allowed to fly freely in our blue skies rather than being shot down the moment they are about to reproduce in northern Europe in spring.

I am also voting no because I do not want my country to be in breach of the Conservation of Wild Birds Directive.

Thirdly I will vote No in order to ensure the government will no longer waste Maltese taxpayers’ money on ineffectual monitoring and reports, only to end facing a court case which, as already happened, Malta will lose.

The choice is between being European and respectful of the EU’s legislation or bending over backwards to creatively reinterpret a Court judgment against Malta and persist in being in breach of the prohibition to hunt at a time when the bird species is reproducing itself.

We all know where such a lax attitude to EU laws leads a country to.

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Paul Radmilli is a PN Sliema local councillor.

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