MaltaToday, 09 April 2008 | Gonzi maintains wall of silence as spring hunting tensions grow


NEWS | Wednesday, 09 April 2008

Gonzi maintains wall of silence as spring hunting tensions grow

ECJ case costs Malta €10,000 so far

By Raphael Vassallo

With tensions running high in the hunting community on account of a veritable dearth of information regarding the future of spring hunting, the Office of the Prime Minister has once again avoided answering any questions regarding the opening or otherwise of this year’s season.
Yesterday, this newspaper sent Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi – who has since the election taken the hunting issue directly under his own wing – a list of questions regarding the ongoing infringement procedures brought against Malta by the European Commission in the European Court of Justice.
“It is not prudent to comment at this stage,” was OPM’s only official reply when asked to specify whether any final decision on this year’s season will be taken before the annual spring migration peters out in around six weeks’ time.
Pressed for a more detailed response, an OPM spokesperson admitted that “tensions are running high” among hunters, and that given the prevailing atmosphere the prime minister would prefer not committing himself at this stage.
The only factual detail supplied by OPM was that the case has so far cost Malta the sum of €10,000: no breakdown was forthcoming, but this figure is highly unlikely to include the man hours put in so far by the office of the Attorney General, still less the services of the Belgian lawyer hired to represent Malta in Strasbourg.

Behind closed doors
It is as yet unclear whether the cause of the prime minister’s concern is due to growing tension among hunters, or rather for fear of jeopardising Malta’s chances of winning its ongoing legal battle against the European Commission. One thing, however, is certain: hunting in spring was always going to be a major bone of contention between Malta and the Commission, as in fact it already was during the delicate pre-accession negotiations in 2003.
The EU Wild Birds Directive (1979) specifically prohibits any hunting to take place during the breeding season, and the Commission has already brought numerous infringement proceedings against other EU member States over the same issue. But under pressure from an aggressively Euro-sceptic opposition led by former MLP leader Alfred Sant, Malta’s negotiating team, headed by Richard Cachia Caruana, was forced to seek an unlikely derogation on spring hunting in order to placate an increasingly restive hunting lobby ahead of the 2003 referendum.
As it happens, the team succeeded in obtaining a single exemption regarding the trapping of wild finches; but despite numerous assurances to the contrary, it failed to negotiate a permanent derogation on the taking of turtledove and quail in spring.
Instead, the Commission simply took note of Malta’s intention to apply Article 9, which allows for exemptions under certain conditions. Sources close to the Commission also pointed out to MaltaToday that the Maltese negotiating team may in part have been misled by the Commission itself into believing that its request for a derogation under Article 9 would eventually be granted.
“At the time, the Commission pointed out that a similar exemption existed in Ireland,” one source told MaltaToday. “What it didn’t say was that another case had already been brought against Finland, and that the precedent set by this case would pre-emptively quash Malta’s case for a special exemption…”
Be that as it may, no special exemption was ever forthcoming, and Malta now faces court action for illegally opening the spring hunting season between 2004 and 2007. In view of the perceived urgency of the case, the Commission also requested the ECJ to issue “interim measures”, in case Malta decided to defy the directive once more by opening the season also in 2008. This request was made before the court in a separate sitting, held behind closed doors, on Wednesday 2 April. A ruling is expected in the coming weeks.
The secrecy with which this case is being handled by the ECJ is another factor contributing to growing tension among the hunters. Gonzi is not the only protagonist to remain tight-lipped on the issue: a spokesman for the ECJ was similarly reticent when pressed by MaltaToday for a reason why the court opted to hear the case against Malta behind closed doors. “It’s a sensitive issue,” was all he would say.
Elsewhere, International Animal Rescue (UK) has suggested that the reason was to prevent Maltese hunters from actually attending the hearing: although this has never been confirmed.
As things stand, the only person to give any direct answer was Malta’s Attorney General Silvio Camilleri himself, who dismissed out of hand any rumours that the “closed door” decision was taken at Malta’s own request. “This is not the case at all,” he said emphatically. “Malta never made any such request.”
Dr Camilleri similarly rebutted allegations that the case had to be deferred because of Malta’s failure to supply all the necessary documentation.
“There has been no deferment at all,” he said pointedly.

Hunters up in arms
The issue may be “sensitive” to the office of the Prime Minister and the European Court of Justice; but it is potentially explosive for the hunting community itself.
Before the March 8 election, the hunters’ federation (FKNK) organised two mass rallies to muster a show of force ahead of the ECJ case. And last Friday, the FKNK presented Dr Gonzi with a formal request to open the spring season while spring lasts.
“If it is apparent that the ECJ will not have already decided on the Commission’s request for interim measures within a reasonable time-frame, it will be clear that the ‘urgency’ alleged by the same Commission does not actually exist,” the FKNK declared. “Therefore, you as Prime Minister must be as firm as your Government’s promise, and insist on the same point that you and your Government had negotiated, and which was never contradicted during the negotiations themselves…”
With the annual spring migration passage already half over, and no indication of any formal decision in the pipeline, some individual hunters appear to taken the decision into their own hands. BirdLife Malta will today address a press conference on reports of illegal hunting this spring; previously, numerous acts of vandalism have been perpetrated, featuring pro-hunting and anti-BirdLife slogans.
But apart from mindless acts of aggression, individual hunters are also known to be suffering from psychological consequences of anxiety and depression. Some have even turned to psychiatrists for professional therapeutic help.

Any comments?
If you wish your comments to be published in our Letters pages please click button below.
Please write a contact number and a postal address where you may be contacted.




MaltaToday News 
09 April 2008

Children’s Commissioner in talks over Lourdes Home abuse

Gonzi maintains wall of silence as spring hunting tensions grow

Development NGOs call on Malta to publish aid figures

Alec Mizzi resigns from Malta Enterprise

Hollywood star Rachel Weisz decamps to Marsaxlokk

Fenech refutes euro ‘price hike’ that ditched Malta for South Africa

Labour leadership election open to paid-up members

MHRA report healthy bookings despite Sterling erosion

Lija local council objects to ODZ factory

‘Premature to take a stand on pairing’ – Charles Mangion

Copyright © MediaToday Co. Ltd, Vjal ir-Rihan, San Gwann SGN 9016, Malta, Europe
Managing editor Saviour Balzan | Tel. ++356 21382741 | Fax: ++356 21385075 | Email