The European Court of Justice (ECJ) decided today that Malta had broken EU rules when it allowed Spring hunting.
The final judgement was announced at the end of proceedings which were instituted early last year by the European Commission against the Maltese government after it allowed the hunting of turtle dove and quail.
The court said that although it may be true that hunting of turtle dove and quail in autumn was not as abundant as in spring, the numbers captured according to submissions made by the Maltese government were disproportionate and thus the opening of the spring season was not justified under EU law.
“Hunting for quails and turtle doves during the autumn hunting season cannot be regarded as constituting, in Malta, another satisfactory solution, so that the condition that there be no other satisfactory solution, laid down in Article 9(1) of the Directive, should, in principle, be considered met,” the Court argued.
However the ECJ said that the conditions on which Malta authorised spring hunting of the two species do not fulfil the requirement for proportionality and other requirements laid down in Article 9(1) of the Directive.
“The prolongation of the hunting season for those two migratory species by authorisation of hunting for approximately two months in spring, during which the two hunted species are returning to their rearing grounds, which results in a mortality rate three times higher (around 15,000 birds killed) for quails and eight times higher (around 32,000 birds killed) for turtle doves than for the autumn hunting season, does not constitute an adequate solution that is strictly proportionate to the Directive’s objective of conservation of the species.”
The ECJ said that in these circumstances, even though only an inconsiderable number of the two species at issue are present in autumn and for a very limited period, and since hunting is not impossible in autumn, “by authorising the opening of the spring hunting season for quails and turtle doves for several weeks each year, from 2004 to 2007, Malta has failed to comply with the conditions for a derogation under Article 9(1) of the Directive, interpreted in the light of the principle of proportionality and, accordingly, has failed to fulfil its obligations under that directive.”
The ruling was given during a session of the second chamber of the Luxembourg-based court. The ECJ asked the Maltese Government to come in line with the EU provisions and pay the expenses involved in the court case. Malta will not have to pay any financial penalties if it complies with the judgement.
No appeal may be made.
Birdlife International and the Federation of Associations for Hunting and Conservation of the EU (FACE) which respectively feature BirdLife Malta and the hunters' federation (FKNK) among their members, yesterday issued a joint statement stressing the need for the court's decision to be respected.
The Maltese government in a statement in the evening reiterated its commitment to respect the decision.
The Maltese government defended spring hunting before the court, arguing that during the EU membership negotiations it had informed the Commission of its intention to allow spring hunting by applying a derogation under the Birds directive. That intention was acknowledged by the commission.
However the Commission started infringement procedures against Malta following a decision by the ECJ against Finland in a similar case in 2005, saying the application of the derogation was no longer justified.
During the proceedings, Attorney General Silvio Camilleri argued that the end of spring hunting would practically mean the end of hunting in Malta since the number of turtle dove and quail which fly over in the autumn is very low. The European Commission disputed that claim.
Legal counsel from FACE were in the Maltese legal team.
Spring hunting was banned in Malta for the past two seasons while the case was pending.