There can be no bigger dilemma than deciding on one of the thorniest issues in Maltese politics: spring hunting.
Yesterday evening, the Ornis Committee washed its hands of the decision to recommend to the minister whether to open the spring hunting season or not, and asked the minister to decide himself. The decision comes in the wake of possible interim measures against Malta ordered by the European Court of Justice, as the islands are taken to court by the European Commission over its decision to open the spring hunting season illegally over the past four years.
And now it is election time. The hunters represent a major electoral concern for the government. And this time, the Ornis Committee are kicking the ball back into George Pullicino’s court.
Mr Pullicino’s decision is all about ending spring hunting in April and May. It is a decision which has a number of implications. First and foremost, it may have a backlash from the angry hunting lobby led by a traditionally stubborn and intransigent leadership, who have for the umpteenth time promised to work against those political parties who support the EU directive that bans spring hunting. It is an EU directive that has been respected by a majority of EU member states, and in the case of those who defaulted on their obligations, these states have been made to pay after being taken to the European Court of Justice.
Mr Pullicino’s decision will also have a bearing on how the European Commission will look at Malta. Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas has already spelt out the clear obligations Malta has in having accepted the accession package related to the environment. Without a clear case for derogating from the Birds Directive, there is no question that the Commission is not going to stand for any deviations from the law. Its stand on taking Malta to court proves this well enough.
More importantly, Mr Pullicino’s decision will have a direct impact on the status of our natural environment. If he opts for declaring a stop to spring hunting it will take Malta into a new era: one which will decidedly signal a clear effort by the government to uphold EU law and to stand brave in the face of the opposition by hunters.
But if he doesn’t stop spring hunting, it will only prolong the hunting problem – albeit for a little bit longer. Again, the European Court of Justice decision looms large on the entire island, and it may well result in the payment of fines which every taxpayer will have to pay.
But this is what the Maltese people voted for when it gave the Nationalist government the mandate to take Malta into the European Union. It is now up to this government to respect this mandate, and take this brave step that will earn the respect of a substantial part of the electorate.
If Mr Pullicino does take the brave decision of not allowing spring hunting then there is little doubt that we will be the first ones to pat him on the back and say well done. And we would hope that all political parties will support his decision. We hope that it will set a standard in the way political parties deal with lobbies such as the hunters.
Mr Pullicino will need all the encouragement he can get. He will also need to remind the hunters of the commitments that were supposedly taken by hunting lobby. Namely that they would implement a number of things: that they would not allow their members to hunt legally protected species; that they would hunt quails and turtle doves in limited and contained numbers; that they would lend their expertise in the breeding of games species.
But in all these spheres, the hunters and trappers have failed to deliver. More worryingly, instead of finding a way forward, the hunters confronted government, egging their supporters to be more militant. They took to the streets insisting that they could negotiate a better position for Malta when the EU has told them that this is not the case.
George Pullicino is one of the younger ministers in the Gonzi government. As minister he has been in the line of fire for his controversial decisions, but this will be his most contentious decision so far.
George: go for it, be brave!