This battle is not over... yet

Ironically, the only people who ever told them the full truth about EU regulations were Birdlife Malta and Alternattiva Demokratika: the two entities that the hunters and trappers’ associations now hold most responsible for the ECJ ruling

I think it’s fair to say that I have never been their biggest fan... even so, however, I must admit I find it hard not to empathise just a little with the trappers, after this week’s ruling by the European Court of Justice.

I’ll get to the specifics of that ruling later; but in the meantime, please note I said ‘empathise’... not ‘sympathise’.

Big difference, in this context. For it is equally difficult to feel genuinely ‘sorry’ for people who allowed themselves to be duped so blatantly, by so many people, for so very long... especially when they themselves have always been such prime agents in their own deception.

All the same: their feelings of anger, betrayal and reproach... those are things we can all understand, whether or not we share the sentiments ourselves. And there can be no doubt that Malta’s trapping community has been cynically exploited and deceived – by just about everyone and his kelb tal-kacca, in fact – ever since the long-term future of trapping first became an issue in the early 1990s.

Ironically, the only people who ever told them the full truth about EU regulations were Birdlife Malta and Alternattiva Demokratika: the two entities (BLM in particular) that the hunters and trappers’ associations now hold most responsible for the ECJ ruling.

This, I must admit, has me slightly perplexed. Speaking for myself: I would be grateful – not resentful – to someone who actually told me the truth about an issue I held close to heart... even if ‘the truth’ was not exactly music to my ears. Hunters and trappers, on the other hand, only ever seem interested in hearing their own arguments parroted by others... while consistently reacting with hostility and aggression, whenever anyone dares sing from any hymn-book other than their own.

Clearly, some people find it hard – if not downright impossible – to distinguish between ‘the truth’ and ‘what they want to hear’. But then again, hunters and trappers are hardly the only culprits on that score. I have seen (and experienced) the same phenomenon on countless occasions: for instance, whenever I write articles that do not echo the political viewpoint that some people seem to think I should adhere to religiously... because... um... well, it’s their political viewpoint; so it naturally follows that everyone else has to subscribe to it, too.

To be honest, I find that sort of pigheaded arrogance infinitely more offensive when it comes from people who also seem to think of themselves as ‘spokespersons’ for Democracy itself...  purveyors of such lofty principles as ‘justice’, ‘free speech’ and ‘the rule of law’... and yet, who rarely seem capable of comprehending even the most basic aspects of any of those ideals themselves.

Meanwhile, I am unaware of any hunter or trapper who ever projected himself in such terms. So, I’m perfectly willing to close an eye at the (often outrageous) irrationality of their response to criticism over the years... which, in a nutshell, has only ever been to shoot the messenger, as deftly and unthinkingly as they might shoot down a migratory bird.

What I find slightly harder to excuse is the response of all the people who lied to them so shamelessly over the years. No shortage of these, by the way: it wasn’t just the Nationalist and Labour Parties... but also the regulatory authorities, all the ‘experts’ who advised government on the implementation of the derogation...  not to mention a great chunk of the local media: including both party stations and (more regrettably) TVM.

All of the above have contributed to this utterly absurd assumption that Malta was somehow within its rights to ‘apply a derogation’ on finch trapping, when – as has finally been confirmed by the highest legal authority in such matters – there was never any reason to believe that at all: still less any solid argumentation that could hope to survive scrutiny by the European Court.

It has all been explained before... but of course, they never listened because it wasn’t what they wanted to hear. But the reality is that, while the possibility to ‘derogate’ from European law does exist... the derogation itself has to be underpinned by rational arguments that constitute a ‘judicious’ reason not to apply the directive.

Article 9 – which governs derogations to the European Wild Birds Directive – allows for exceptions to be made only in the following cases: “In the interests of public health and safety; in the interests of air safety; to prevent serious damage to crops [etc.]; for the protection of flora and fauna; for the purposes of research and teaching [etc.]...” and – this is the critical one, in our context – “to permit, under strictly supervised conditions and on a selective basis, the
capture, keeping or other judicious use of certain birds in small numbers.”

Malta obviously went for the last option: even though it is clear at a glance it cannot possibly be made to fit the local context. The conditions of supervision were not ‘strict’; the method is not ‘selective’ (it cannot be, seeing as we use clap-nets... which are illegal in other parts of Europe, precisely because they tend to be indiscriminate); the numbers are not ‘small’ (we have the highest density of trappers in the EU) ... but by far the most glaring problem is that – to quote directly from the ruling – “recreational trapping of birds cannot be considered judicious.”

Both Labour and Nationalist are reacting as though there was still anything left of their nonsensical argument

Boom! There, in a nutshell, is Malta’s entire defence blown out of the water. All this time we have argued – irrationally – that ‘trapping birds for fun’ constitutes some kind of valid justification for breaking a directive that exists to protect wild birds from precisely that sort of thing. Even worse, successive governments – but this one more than any other – have consistently supplemented that bizarre reasoning by pointing towards their own electoral mandates. How many times have we heard it before? “We are bound by an electoral promise to do everything in our power to get the best deal for hunters and trappers, blah blah blah”...

Excuse me, but... who gives a flying finch what the Maltese government promised to which sector of the Maltese population? Why should the European Court of Justice be even remotely swayed by the fact that successive governments have always made promises they knew (or should have known) they couldn’t possibly keep? After all, it exists to interpret and apply European law... not to help local political parties win elections.

But in any case: the ruling is there, and it very clearly demolishes the only plank Malta ever thought it had when it came to simply exempting itself from European law at will. Now, I reckon the people who made all these deceitful promises owe us a few answers... all of us, not just the immediate victims of their deception: i.e., the trappers themselves.

I, for one, would like to know why the present government obstinately chose to waste so much money and resources to fight such a pointless, doomed legal battle for so long.

Let’s start with the money. How much did this case cost the taxpayer, anyway?  It’s not just the legal expenses involved in actually slugging it out in Luxembourg. The government has been pouring resources into this cause for a number of years now: it has paid consultants to draw up reports, it has diverted bodies such as the Ornis Committee and the Wild Birds Regulatory Unit from their main raison d’etre, to concentrate solely on this one issue... and even if the ‘supervision’ proved insufficient in the end, the Police’s Administrative Law Enforcement sector still had to waste time and manpower on ‘monitoring’ what was, effectively, an illegal activity.

So, when you tot it all up... how many millions of euros did we all just flush down the toilet, with nothing to show for it in the end but a humiliating take-down by the European Court of Justice?

This gives rise to another consideration, but I won’t bother too much with it because... well, it’s kind of pointless, really. Don’t laugh, but... what about political responsibility? Does anyone, at any level, assume any form of blame whatsoever for the fiasco..?

No prizes for guessing correctly. Meanwhile, a slightly more pressing – and answerable – concern is.... well, what happens now? Do we bow to the ECJ’s verdict, and say: “That’s it, folks... no more trapping?” Or do we just pretend the whole thing never happened at all, and hope for better luck next time?

Unfortunately, we already have the answer to that one. Instead of both parties simply acknowledging that they lied to the trappers – and to the rest of us as well – by insisting it was possible to apply this derogation... they are both, even now, arguing that it can still be applied.

Parliamentary Secretary for Animal Rights (!) Clint Camilleri even stated that “government did not do anything illegal in applying the derogation” – after the ECJ only just ruled that... erm... actually yes, it did – and that it “will be deciding on a course of action [after] an accurate analysis of the verdict is complete.”

Not to be outdone, Adrian Delia’s PN is now “appealing for serious dialogue with the European Commission and with trappers in order to find a way of sustainably maintaining trapping in a way that doesn’t go against the provisions of the Birds Directive.”

I would think that’s rather difficult, after the European Court very clearly established that ‘recreational trapping’ cannot be justified as the sole reason to apply a derogation. But there you have it. Both Labour and Nationalist are reacting as though there was still anything left of their nonsensical argument, after it was blown to smithereens by the ECJ; and I don’t really blame then, either, because... well, it’s our money and resources, not their own, that both a Nationalist and/or Labour government will be only too happy to keep squandering in pursuit of a lost cause. Since when has either of them ever given a toss about simply appropriating the country’s assets, and using them to fight their own private political battles? And since when, for that matter, has any Maltese taxpayer ever really complained about so blatantly robbed and cheated, every single time?

No, indeed. Not only do we all accept that situation, but we even applaud and encourage ‘our’ parties to forge ahead with their pointless conflict... even it means dragging the entire country into one pointless legal wrangle after another. So I guess we’d all better start bracing ourselves for an inevitable second ruling, after Malta once again chooses to defy the European Commission by opening the trapping season again next October.

That, by the way, is an actual prediction I’m making from now, in the absence of any sarcasm whatsoever. This battle isn’t over yet... and it won’t be over, for as long as people continue to place trust in political parties that just keep lying to us, over and over again.

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