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MT 19 October 2014

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27 At face value, there is a glaring contradiction in the government's current policies regard- ing hunting and trapping. Last month, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat personally intervened to suspend the autumn hunting season in mid-course, following reports of illegal hunting. It is an open secret that part of the motivation concerned Kar- menu Vella's then imminent grilling by the European parliament for the post of Environ- ment Commissioner. On that occasion, the government seemed mindful of the need to adhere to the European script, at least insofar as was necessary to get its own nominee for the Commission approved. Yet just a few weeks later, the same govern- ment once again seems hell-bent on defying European law by permitting finch trapping: a practice that was successfully phased out in 2009, in accordance with Malta's accession treaty obligations. Something does not add up. It is as though the present administration wants to reas- sure its European counterparts that it intends to take its wildlife commitments seriously, while at the same time taking liberties with European legislation to achieve the opposite objective. It's a classic case of 'running with the hares and hunting with the hounds'. The Government's reasoning in re-intro- ducing finch trapping is flawed on another count. Roderick Galdes, the parliamentary secretary for animal rights, is citing the 'right to derogate' (provided by Article 9.1 of the Birds Directive) as a justification for the move. In so doing he is misinterpreting the essence of this right, which only applies to areas where legitimate hunting practices are involved. The whole issue of derogating or rather exempt- ing Malta from the directive on trapping was clearly outlined in the directive. It is clearly impossible to derogate and it is absurd that the Ornis committee set up by the govern- ment proposed to the government to reopen trapping. In the case of spring hunting, Malta argued in the European Court that autumn hunting cannot be deemed a 'satisfactory solution' to spring in the case of turtle dove and quail, because the statistics for bird migration (in themselves questionable, but that's another story) show that insufficient numbers pass over Malta in autumn. This argument failed to prevent the European court from ruling against Malta over the spring hunting seasons between 2004 and 2008. But the court as- sumed to acknowledge that at least one out of several conditions for a derogation might apply in future seasons. This was enough for the government to once again permit spring hunting. It remains highly debatable, however, whether the other conditions provided for by Article 9.1 are also in place. One of these conditions concerns adequate law enforcement. This year we all saw how an already paltry ratio between law enforcement officers and hunters – seven ALE officers to monitor 1,000 hunters – had been further minimised by a spate of police trans- fers just before the season opened. In the case of finch trapping, however, none of the traditional pro-spring hunting arguments apply. A derogation can only be obtained when a legitimate practice is made impossible for whatever reason. Hunting turtle dove and quail is considered legitimate, at least in autumn. This fact forms the basis of the derogation argument. Finch trapping is not, however, considered a legitimate practice. According to the Birds Directive it is illegal all year round. The same justification that seems to have worked in the case of spring hunting does not apply in this scenario. This is precisely why Malta is yet again facing infringement procedures over breaching the European Wild Birds Direc- tive; which may result in another case in the European Court of Justice and possible fines to be paid by the Maltese taxpayer. On all fronts, this is a singularly irrespon- sible risk for the government to be taking. It is also an entirely unnecessary risk. Unlike spring hunting, where there were unruly protests after the season was abruptly closed in 2009, Maltese trappers had countenanced the loss of finch trapping with stoic resigna- tion. There were complaints at the time, but these had by now fizzled out. The country had accepted the new legislative set-up, and there wasn't even any vocal demand for the practice to be re-introduced. Trappers were also compensated with another derogation permitting the trapping of two other species: song thrush and golden plover. Why, then, is the present government seek- ing to turn back the clock and re-inflame a controversy that had been successfully laid to rest? So far there has been no answer to this legitimate question. One can only assume that the move is part of a long-established political strategy of pandering to the 10,000- strong hunters and trappers lobby. More so, when Prime Minister Joseph Muscat did not promise to reintroduce bird trapping in his electoral manifesto. The question that now arises is, can Malta afford the cost of this strategy? On the part of the Labour Party – which measures the suc- cess or failure of such strategies only in terms of votes – the answer may well be yes. Having incensed the hunting community with his temporary closure of the season, Muscat may well reason that it is worth trying to claw back some of the lost support or votes by giving the hunters the impression that his government is still interested in championing their lobby. But if there is a price to pay for this gamble, it will not be paid by the Labour Party. On the contrary, Malta as a whole will pay for this flawed policy: not just in terms of possible fines imposed by the European Court, but also in terms of its international reputation, and ul- timately at the cost of its already limited wild- life and the habitats that will be permanently destroyed by the 8,000-odd trapping sites. maltatoday, Sunday, 19 OctOber 2014 Editorial MaltaToday, MediaToday Co. Ltd, Vjal ir-Rihan, San Gwann SGN 9016 MaNaGiNG DiReCToR: RoGeR De GioRGio Managing EdiTor: Saviour Balzan Tel: (356) 21 382741-3, 21 382745-6 • Fax: (356) 21 385075 Website: e-mail: Quote of the week "I wasn't scared of the Prime Minister who tried to shut me up by facing me with a jury of three Labour MPs in the privileges committee, let alone being scared of his consultant. " – Simon Busuttil replies to John Dalli after the latter threatened the Opposition leader with libel A risky and unnecessary gamble

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