The European Commission was “left without a choice” but to take legal action against Malta over bird hunting and trapping, European environment commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius said this week.

Sinkevičius said Malta was not implementing the rules established in the Birds Directive, which aims to protect wild birds and their habitats in the EU.

“Unfortunately, Malta did not prohibit (hunting and trapping) and that left the Commission without a choice but to refer Malta to the European Court of Justice,” he said. 

Brussels has instituted multiple legal actions on Malta’s hunting and trapping policies.

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Turtle dove population in decline

Sinkevičius said Malta was not implementing the “very clear rules” of the Birds Directive, especially on spring hunting of turtle doves.

“We collected a scientific panel with regional and local experts to draw on what can be done to reverse the trend of the declining (turtle) dove population and improve it,” he said. 

The outcome of the panel was “very clear” that hunting and trapping, especially during the migration period, should be prohibited, Sinkevičius said. 

So the Commission had no other choice but to take legal action.

The Birds Directive requires a system of protection for wild birds and only allows hunting or trapping under strict conditions. 

The Commission argues Malta has failed to implement a system to protect wild birds against illegal killing and capture, and it has taken legal steps against the country.

Malta facing European Court of Justice

Two years ago it took Malta to the European Court of Justice for violating a ban on finch trapping.

The legal action came after trappers participated in a catch-and-release “study,” despite a warning from the Commission.

Brussels has also opened infringement procedures on quail hunting and on the trapping of song trush and golden plovers.

And last February, the Commission sent Malta a letter of formal notice to put a stop to the spring hunting of turtle doves or face legal action. But the government opened the turtle dove hunting season two months later.

A letter of formal notice is the first step before the Commission takes an EU member state to the ECJ.

This is followed by a ‘reasoned opinion’ if the country fails to provide an acceptable explanation or change its policies.

If it persists in its failure to comply, the next step is action before the ECJ.

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