Maltese government plans to reintroduce finch trapping against the European Commission advice.

The government’s plans for the reintroduction of finch trapping after it was phased out six years ago are of grave concern both to the European Commission and environmentalists in Malta and throughout Europe.

The first European Commission warning against reintroduction was received last October, but the government decided to open the season anyway.

Last month, the European Commissioner for Environment, Karmenu Vella, warned Malta it could face court action if it defied EU law and opened another finch trapping season this year.

“Malta should stop the trapping of finches once and for all. If this continues we will have no other alternative but to take Malta to the European Court of Justice,” he said.

Mr Vella, who during his parliamentary hearing before being accepted as a European Commissioner made it clear that he would have no hesitation in applying European law as required without fear or favour, may find himself shortly in the unedifying position of instituting legal action against his own country and against the government he once served.

The European Commission has already launched infringement proceedings against Malta. This sparked a defiant reaction from the government, saying it “disagreed” with the Commission’s interpretation of the Birds Directive and would not go back on the decision.

It has said that it will continue to defend the legitimate rights of Maltese live-bird capture “in full accordance”, as it sees it, “with national and EU law”. The question of the law has now raised its head since the government has refused to table in Parliament the advice which the Attorney General has given it on the opening of the finch-trapping season this year in the face of the European Commission’s second warning.

Environment Minister Leo Brincat has said that the advice was exempt from obligations to reveal it under the Freedom of Information Act. However, when Malta faced a similar situation on spring hunting in 2007, the Attorney General’s advice was given to the government’s consultative body, the Ornis Committee.

But this time, the Ornis Committee has not been made privy to the Attorney General’s advice, although the Parliamentary Secretary for Animal Rights, Roderick Galdes, claims that “key aspects of the advice were integrated in the final report submitted to the committee for its consideration” – a statement denied by Birdlife Malta, which is a key member of the Ornis Committee. It said that the recommendation to hold another trapping season this year were made before the European Commission’s second warning was received.

Given the environmental and conservation sensitivities of such a decision by the committee responsible and the international political and legal sensitivities arising from the Birds Directive, it seems particularly remiss of the government to refuse to divulge what the Attorney General has said.

In view of Malta’s already generally poor international reputation on bird-hunting and that the Commission has successfully dealt with two other countries over bird trapping, the government must decide whether it wants Malta’s name to be dragged through the ECJ simply to satisfy a “hobby” which is illegal and which the majority of people in Europe regard as uncivilised.

Two key points arise. It would not be unnatural to conclude that the government is refusing to divulge the AG’s advice because it exposes Malta’s vulnerability to the European Court of Justice’s finding against Malta if it persists in re-opening the trapping season.

And, moreover, that the government is recklessly exposing the Maltese taxpayer to paying hefty fines for doing so.

Comments are closed.