Arrogant Intervention?
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1. Telefax back-up letters to Malta addressees sent out this morning.

2. Newspaper article

Transition period for hunters!?


Hunters, BirdLife take EU environment commissioner to task.

The hunters' federation and environmental group BirdLife have both criticised European Union Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom for saying there would be no transition period for legislation on hunting once Malta joined the Union.

The Federation for Hunting and Conservation (Malta) described the commissioner's words as "speculation", which "at such an early stage, can only do harm to any party".

BirdLife said the commissioner's "absolute" statement was "verging on the arrogant". She was underestimating the difficulties of the situation and was expecting radical changes overnight, the group said.

In an interview with the monthly Malta-EU Information Centre supplement Crossroads, published yesterday, Ms Wallstrom said that existing legislation on the protection of wild birds "should be respected from the date of accession, and any derogation should, therefore, respect the provisions included in the existing EU directive".

No transition periods would be accepted for the transposition and implementation of EU legislation on nature protection.

The Maltese authorities were encouraged to accelerate the necessary legislative alignment to EU rules, she said. Maltese laws differed from EU directives in that they allowed the hunting of migratory birds in spring.

Hunters' federation secretary Lino Farrugia said yesterday the federation was not after any transition periods or derogations, but "pre-accession special conditions", which were up to government to obtain.

Negotiations between the EU commission and the government had not yet started, he said, adding that the fact that the federation had been promised that "nothing would change" would be taken into account.

Neither was one environmental NGO too happy with the news that transition periods would not be accepted.

BirdLife president Antoine Vella said Ms Wallstrom was not aware of the "depth of emotion" that hunting provoked in Malta, and needed to be more flexible and considerate.

The EU environment commissioner "has a different perception of reality because she has not spoken to those who are truly knowledgeable about the matter.

"Such an attitude - so absolute - is not going to help Malta's bid for membership," Mr Vella said.

He urged greater diplomacy, saying the commissioner was playing into the hands of those who were opposed to EU membership, who would now use her words as a tool and a weapon in their favour.

BirdLife has never met the commissioner and it hoped that, during her next visit to Malta, she would get in touch with those who were directly involved in the issue, including hunters.

Ms Wallstrom needed to consider everyone's feelings - even those of the hunters, Mr Vella said. "We are talking about people and not just about rules here," and people took time to change.

BirdLife recognised - however much it would like the changes in the legislation to be introduced - that it would be a lengthy process, that time to adjust was required and that "a softer approach" should be adopted, Mr Vella said.

He said that although the commissioner's comments were the EU's official position, negotiations had not yet started, and the government had not yet put forward its official stand and asked for any derogations.

In principle, BirdLife did not agree with hunting, Mr Vella said, but neither was it opposed to transition periods, as long as they were reasonable and that compliance was ensured.

The issue could not be expected to be solved overnight and changes adopted from the "first day", as Ms Wallstrom had indicated.

Malta had a bad reputation when it came to enforcement to curb illegal hunting, Mr Vella said. The government had embarked on a campaign to try and improve the situation, but it still had a long way to go.

BirdLife was currently discussing the issue of enforcement with hunters, he said. Enforcement was, after all, also in their interest in that it offered "a better a chance for Malta to obtain derogations," Mr Vella said.

BirdLife understood that its anti-hunting stand was merely an "opinion", and "we do not expect everyone to share it, just as we have to accept that of others. It would be naive of us to think that the government would support BirdLife and other environmental groups all the way. Public opinion is divided and it is not on our side. But, at least, we agree to disagree".

BirdLife predicted that when the applicant countries joined the EU they would push for changes to its birds directive - the product of the 15 western European and Scandinavian member states, which enjoyed a strong environmental movement.

Applicant countries, Mr Vella explained, were less conscious of the environment and were destined to influence environmental legislation when they joined the EU.

With their membership, the Europe of the future would be "less green" than it is now, and the future of the birds directive was uncertain, he said.

A recent proposal to amend the directive had been unsuccessful only by a few votes, he pointed out.

With the entry of eastern European countries into the union, the power base would shift towards hunting.

"That is the real issue for environmental NGOs, and not transition periods," he said.

BirdLife in Germany had 500,000 members, while that of Poland had only 2,000 - even fewer than Malta, Mr Vella pointed out, highlighting the difference in environmental awareness.

In parts of certain EU countries, spring shooting was allowed. Derogations were granted, but strict rules, such as quotas, had to be abided by.

"The EU is, in theory, willing to consider exceptions, but it also depends on how the case is presented and on the country's reputation. The EU is not as anti-hunting as it is painted to be."

In another reaction to Ms Wallstrom's words, Charles Galea, the secretary of the association for shooting and trapping enthusiasts, Ghaqda dilettanti tas-senter u l-gabjun, said he expected the prime minister to "express his views now, vis--vis what he had said when he was in Opposition.

"What is his reaction now after saying, before the elections, that if things changed, they would be in favour of hunters and trappers? Today, it has transpired that it is the other way around."

The association was expecting the prime minister to comment and wanted to know on what basis he had made certain promises.

Before the elections, the Nationalist Party had ascertained that any changes in the law would be in favour of hunters. At the same time, it had said in its electoral manifesto that it would re-activate its EU application - which implied that an "arrangement" had already been made to ensure that Malta's laws would be accepted by the EU.

But it was not the case, Mr Galea said, adding that a completely different picture was now being painted.

Allied Newspapers Ltd. 1998 - 2000


Eurobirder/Proact-Malta David Conlin 2001