European Commission official says Malta has no justification for bird trapping derogations

Finch trapping had to stop when Malta’s exceptional transition period lapsed five years after joining the EU, Brussels official says

Government has tried justifying the re-opening of a finch trapping season on scientific grounds
Government has tried justifying the re-opening of a finch trapping season on scientific grounds

Malta’s latest attempt to justify finch trapping on scientific grounds was questioned by a top Brussels official, who had been involved in EU accession negotiations.

Micheal O’Briain, deputy head of the Nature Unit in the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Environment, emphasised that Malta was the only country that ever got a transition period to phase out trapping when it joined the EU.

He had formed part of the negotiating team prior to 2004, which allowed Malta a five-year transition period to ban finch trapping outright.

O’Briain said the scientific approach should have been used during the phasing out period after EU accession and not now.

He was addressing a recent conference on hunting and the Birds Directive, hosted by the European Parliament’s Intergroup on biodiversity, hunting and countryside in conjunction with the European Federation for Hunting and Conservation (FACE). 

O’Briain took exception with Malta’s application of yet another derogation to allow finch trapping despite previous attempts were found to be illegal.

Malta is facing legal action from the European Commission for re-opening a finch trapping season. The latest derogation seeks to justify trapping on scientific grounds.

He explained that tradition cannot be a justification to breach EU directives and refuted claims that the European Commission only acted against small countries. He said all countries were treated fairly and legal action has been taken against countries like France and Spain.

BirdLife Europe’s senior head of policy Ariel Brunner insisted that in light of the crisis of loss of bird species in Europe he expected the hunting fraternity to play their part in working to change anything that is harming birds like wrong agriculture policy and loss of habitat.

He said that sustainable hunting is the taking of the increment of species’ figures and hence species that have declined should not be hunted. He emphasised the fact that hunters should be more disciplined to become credible in collecting data of amounts being hunted, something which has been abused and failing for decades.

He stated that the onus is on the hunters to prove they are hunting sustainably and if they do not know the amounts being harvested, then the claim of sustainable hunting remains fiction. 

BirdLife Malta CEO Mark Sultana welcomed the statements, insistings that Malta has been abusing the European Birds Directive for a number of years.

“This, together with the fact that – unlike what some claim – Malta has failed to control hunting and trapping activities, and with enforcement now practically inexistent and rampant illegalities on the increase, is a disgrace. We keep on insisting with the Prime Minister to take the direction and ethos of the European Green Deal seriously and stop further derogations. If this plea continues to fall on deaf ears, we expect the European Commission to continue with the Infringement Procedures to bring Malta in line with the EU Directives for the benefit of the Maltese citizens and Europe in general,” Sultana said.