Brussels irked by attempt to short-circuit EU court action

Legal officers from the European Commission suspect the new 'research' trapping framework is a ploy to force Brussels into restarting the infringement process

Commission sources suspect Gozo minister Clint Camilleri is attempting to force Brussels into restarting the infringement process, with Malta legislating a ‘new’ framework law on trapping. (Photo: BirdLife)
Commission sources suspect Gozo minister Clint Camilleri is attempting to force Brussels into restarting the infringement process, with Malta legislating a ‘new’ framework law on trapping. (Photo: BirdLife)

The Maltese government has irked European Commission legal officers who suspect a pre-electoral ploy to re-open the trapping season, is intended at scuppering imminent legal action at the European Court of Justice. 

Brussels suspects the Gozo ministry’s decision to issue a new framework law for bird trapping, days after repealing a previous law under the EC’s infringement proceedings, is intended at forcing its hand to restart the long road to court action. 

Sources told MaltaToday the legal officers were stunned that just a week after repealing the framework law that derogated from the EU ban on bird trapping for reasons of “scientific research”, a new framework law was published a week later. 

The repeal of the ‘old’ law on 13 October effectively led to a stay in infringement proceedings launched by the Commission against Malta’s derogation from the EU ban on trapping, which by then had reached a second stage where Brussels sends Malta a reasoned opinion. 

But Commission sources suspect Gozo minister Clint Camilleri is attempting to force Brussels into restarting the infringement process, with a new letter of formal notice, because Malta is legislating a ‘new’ framework law on trapping. 

The suspicion is compounded by the carte blanche granted by the Ornis Commitee, the consultative body that issues recommendations to the minister on whether the reopen the trapping season or not. 

The Ornis Committee last met on the eve of the repeal of the framework law on trapping, where it was to decide on whether to recommend the minister to reopen the trapping season in autumn. 

Instead, the Ornis chairman – Joseph Grech – presented a motion to the committee, to allow the minister responsible for hunting, Gozo minister Clint Camilleri, to single-handedly take the decision to reopen the trapping season or not, given that Malta was facing infringement proceedings from Brussels. 

BirdLife Malta, members of the committee, abstained on the motion, which was supported by hunters lobby FKNK and the other government appointees. 

The day after on 13 October, the government repealed the law allowing trapping for scientific research, ostensibly due to the threat of legal action from Brussels. 

Yet almost a week later on 19 October, the FKNK issued a public statement expressing gratitude to Camilleri for the reopening of the trapping season, right on the eve of the publication of a new framework law, once again announcing a derogation from the EU ban on trapping on grounds of scientific research. 

But the move has angered Brussels officials who first interpreted the repeal of the ‘old’ framework law as a response to infringement proceedings. 

“It looks like the Maltese government tried to scotch the infringement by repealing the offending law, and now introduced a new law, ostensibly expecting that infringement proceedings restart from scratch, and buying more time for the Maltese government,” a source close to the Brussels officials told MaltaToday. 

The cynical move annoyed legal officials scrutinising the Maltese derogation, especially since the new framework law was not even issued for a four-week public consultation as mandated by the Environment Protection Act. 

“If the Maltese government is trying to short-circuit an infringement proceeding by repealing a ‘bad’ law and replacing with a new, equally ‘bad’ law, it will not be viewed favourably,” MaltaToday’s source said. 

Indeed the stage is now set for a re-appraisal in Brussels of Malta’s new framework law, which is largely viewed as a continuation of the original ‘scientific research’ trapping law simply to allow trappers an autumn season right before a possible general election. 

Reasoned opinion 

Back in July, Malta was told to halt finch trapping for research purposes as Brussels warned of further legal action. In a reasoned opinion communicated by the European Commission, the Maltese government was given one month to remedy the situation. 

Finch trapping cannot take place in line with the Birds Directive, and Malta has already lost its case in front of the European Court of Justice when it applied such a derogation.  

In October 2020, the government decided to apply a new derogation for the practice to continue under the guise of “research”. 

Bird conservation groups warned this was just a ploy to continue finch trapping as before and the European Commission appears to have seen through the government’s decision. 

Indeed Brussels has already declared that it sees the new research derogation as circumventing the judgment of the Court of Justice, by permitting trapping of finches in similar conditions as before this ruling, even if under a different regime. 

The Birds Directive allows derogations from the ban on spring hunting and trapping only subject to strict conditions.