Updated | 'Opening finch trapping will land Malta in court' - Karmenu Vella

EU Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella plans to ‘strengthen’ Birds Directive, insists government must take turtle dove's new 'vulnerable' status into account in its next argument in favour of spring hunting 

The Maltese government risks being taken to court by the European Commission if it opens the finch-trapping season, Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella has warned.

MaltaToday had reported that the Maltese government will be receiving a ‘reasoned opinion’ from the European Commission, giving it two months to comply with the reasoned opinion, which comes eight months after the government received a formal complaint in October 2014 for opening the season.

If the Maltese government refuses to comply with the EU, the Commission may ask the Court of Justice to start litigation procedures against Malta.

When asked questions about the Commission’s recent warning to Malta to end finch trapping, Vella refused to give his opinion on what line of action the Maltese government should now follow.

“That is up to the government,” he said. “As Commissioner, we have issued a warning and Malta will be taken to court if it doesn’t close the trapping season.”

Vella is currently in Malta where he earlier addressed a joint meeting of the Foreign and European Affairs Committee, the Social Affairs Committee, the Economic and Financial Affairs Committee and the Environment and Development Planning Committee to discuss the Commissioner’s plans for 2015.

Taking questions from the journalists, Vella also insisted that the Maltese government must take the turtle dove’s new ‘vulnerable’ status into account before submitting a derogation application for the 2016 spring hunting season.

“This year’s hunting season had taken the IUCN’s old rest list into account, but the situation has changed since then,” Vella said in brief comments to the press after a joint committee meeting.

“It’s now up to Malta to come up with an argument to justify spring hunting while taking this new data into account, and the EU courts will decide.

The European turtle dove, one of the two hunt-able birds in Malta’s spring hunting season, was recently categorised as a ‘vulnerable’ species in the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s updated Red List of threatened birds.

Vella said he was looking to strengthen the Birds Directive, the EU’s directive on the conservation of wild birds.

“[EU Commission President] Jean-Claude Juncker has requested me to undergo a fitness check on the Birds Directive, which has proven to be hugely controversial,” Vella said. ”I have been warned not to touch the Birds Directive as I could risk lowering its standards. However, if we do open up the directive, it will be to render it more ambitious to address future challenges and not to lower its standards.”

Vella admitted that the conservation of biodiversity is an “extremely controversial” topic.

“However, we must up our efforts to address future biodiversity challenges and we can no longer act as though it is business as usual,” he warned.

‘Malta’s population density must be considered in migrant relocation’

During the meeting, Vella said that the EU must take Malta’s small size and high population density into account when drafting migrant relocation schemes.

The European Commission, in its recent European Agenda for Migration, has proposed that Malta take in 300 asylum seekers over two years from Italy and Greece. In total, the EC proposed that 40,000 asylum seekers from Eritrea and Syria be relocated to EU member states, who would in return receive €6,000 for every asylum seeker they take in.

However, Opposition MP Francis Zammit Dimech, the PN’s immigration spokesperson, told Vella that he disagreed with the EU’s relocation formula- based on countries’ populations, GDP, unemployment rates and asylum applications.

“Malta’s size is extremely irrelevant, particularly when one considers that it is by far the most densely populated country in the EU,” he said. “Malta shouldn’t be obliged to accept any asylum seekers, but should rather be considered alongside Italy and Greece.”

Vella agreed with Zammit Dimech, arguing that if Malta has taken in 20,000 irregular immigrants over the years, then that amounts to 5% of the total population.

However, he said that the EC is finally adopting a “strategic” approach to the Mediterranean’s immigration problems, compared to the “management-by-crisis” approach of the past.

“We obviously need to address the root causes behind why immigrants leave their countries of origin in the first place, as well as the safety of migrants in countries of transit such as Libya,” Vella said. “Unfortunately, criminal human traffickers are exploiting immigrants and taking advantage of a humanitarian crisis. We cannot abandon the immigrants as they’re facing a humanitarian crisis, but we must take action on the criminals.”

He also warned that vessels that pass by a boatload of immigrants in the Mediterranean sometimes ignore them, despite being bound by international law to pick them up.

‘Need to start recycling food, construction waste’

Vella also said that people must start recycling food and construction waste, rather than just metal, glass, paper, and plastic, and that landfills must be phased out as they act as a deterrent to recycling.

He warned that Europe has a huge resource deficit and imports around 60% of the resources it needs to produce goods.

“The Commission is working hard at transforming our linear economy into a circular one, whereby materials are reused and recycled instead of thrown away,” Vella said. “However, we need to be more ambitious when setting targets on circular economical growth. At the moment, 28 EU countries are moving at 28 different speeds. We must identify those who are progressing at a slower pace, and help them achieve their targets rather than lowering the targets to meet their pace.” 

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