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Opinion | Wednesday, 12 May 2010 Issue. 163

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Anna Mallia’s hunting fantasy

Anna Mallia last week announced that “year-round hunting was approved in Italy” implying that Malta should follow the example. This is far from the truth.
The Italian law on hunting she referred to is actually a law designed to address the infringement proceedings initiated by the European Commission (EC) against Italy for the wrong transposition of the Birds Directive. Anna Mallia ignored that fact and only chose to mention one section within the proposed law that aims to extend the hunting season. But Italy is a long way from doing that.
The proposal has only been approved at the Chamber of Deputies and still needs to go to the Senate in Rome for approval or rejection. Until that outcome, the EC cannot take action against Italy. It can only act if the outcome goes against the Birds Directive.
The proposal to the Senate suggests extending the hunting season for only ten days – not year-round as she claimed. The autumn hunting season in Italy opens at the beginning of September and ends at the end of January – as it does in Malta.
If the proposed amendments to the law are approved, then in certain regions in Italy the hunting season would extend till 10th February. It is up to the technical committee (ISPRA) to decide, which is empowered to reduce this proposed extension for certain species and regions if it believes this would infringe EU law.
One of the most active conservation organisations (or environmentalists as she puts it) working against this article of the law is BirdLife Italy (LIPU). It is thanks to LIPU’s hard work that the EC had initiated infringement procedures against Italy.
There are a number of other facts Anna Mallia failed to acknowledge in her article. First of all, if anybody is privileged in the EU, it is the Maltese hunters. In many European countries hunters do not shoot migratory birds as the Maltese hunters do.
Hunting migratory birds cannot constitute sustainable hunting, which refers to the targeting of a small portion of the local population of species. No other country in the EU has more hunters per square kilometre of the countryside than Malta, where poaching is rampant because of weak law enforcement.
The major issue is hunting in spring. Even though spring hunting is forbidden under the Birds Directive, Malta allowed the targeting of migratory Quails and Turtle Doves. In the UK, Turtle Doves are considered to be a declining species and are protected. Yet, the birds Maltese hunters target are on their way to European breeding grounds - so the impact of Maltese hunters on conservation efforts in other European countries becomes inherently obvious.
One fact that escaped Anna Mallia when she claimed that “the Birds Directive does not apply the same way to Malta as it does in Italy and in the UK”, is that no member state in the EU has managed to obtain a spring hunting derogation. This was confirmed by the EC’s representative Patrick Wegert when in Malta last autumn. Some tried, like Finland and Spain, but they were all taken to court and found guilty, like Malta.
Anna Mallia also wrongly claims that “Brussels discriminates against us and treats us like babies when it gave us permission to hunt for only a mere six days this spring”. As a lawyer, she should have a better understanding of how derogations are applied and assessed before making such ridiculous statements.
Brussels did not give Malta permission to hunt for a six days. It was the government that made that decision – and one that now needs to be justified through a derogation report (as is the case for any member state) because Malta chose to exempt itself from conditions under the law.
Yet she mocks legislative processes in the EU by poking fun at Malta having to submit a report to the EC “to prove to Brussels that we behaved”. Such a lack of respect for the law beggars belief. If the application of EU laws were up to the discretion of member states, there wouldn’t be much point to EU membership, would there?
Anna Mallia’s ignorance of how the EU functions is again obvious when she goes as far as saying that Brussels “expects us to SMS every catch”. Brussels expected no such thing; Brussels expected real law enforcement, which is one of the criteria for a derogation. The decision to have hunters SMS their catch was a comical measure by the government that attempted to show the EC that law enforcement was being taken seriously.
She speaks of “rule bending” as a skill to be admired: “God Bless the Italians for the ingenuity” she says referring to the Italians targeting Starlings because of damage to olive harvests. Anna Mallia seems to be blissfully unaware that Starlings are legally shot in their thousands in Malta every autumn - not to control “crop damage” but for fun.
Moreover, the government last year issued a Legal Notice allowing shooting at Starlings at Luqa airport in spring under a derogation that can be applied by Malta for aviation safety. BirdLife has not objected because the exemption is based on just considerations.
She refers to an agreement in 2004 between BirdLife International and FACE on a 10-point plan that enabled hunting to continue in “a well-regulated framework”. It is precisely the “rule bending” by FACE’s Mediterranean members that has consistently undermined this agreement. Perhaps she should decide what she is advocating for – rule bending or a regulated framework that is respected by all parties?
Her blinkered perspective also leads her defend those who show consistent disrespect for national and European law, by focusing her attack on those who are doing their utmost to defend it. Her statement that “BirdLife does not have a license to trespass” is entirely ridiculous. The two BirdLife volunteers who were assaulted in Dingli by two aggressors without any warning were walking on a country lane – there was no gate or sign. Even if so, this would not justify violence.
She seems to ignore the obvious – that standing in the countryside is anybody’s right, and using binoculars or cameras is not illegal. The only ones bothered by this are those caught on camera breaking the law. No BirdLife volunteer has ever pretended to do the police’s job, otherwise they would not call and wait for the police to arrive at the crime scene.
Surprisingly, Anna Mallia does not consider the xenophobic statements by the hunting lobby’s spokespersons as provocation, she does not consider their vote waving and arm-twisting with consecutive governments as provocation and she does not consider the hunters’ occupation of public land as provocation.
She goes even further and questions how BirdLife can be fond of birds when “one of them” keeps protected species in his home for research. She conveniently refrains from naming the individual concerned. She ought to report this individual, if such person truly exists, but she needs proof beyond “someone told me”, which seems to be enough basis for her to share this accusation with the nation. Meanwhile, she conveniently ignores the thousands of stuffed protected birds on display in personal vetrinas at home.
While everyone is entitled to their opinion, it should be based on facts when expressed to the public.



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The dividends of hates

Anna Mallia
Corruption and the private sector

Tolga Temuge
Anna Mallia’s hunting fantasy

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