ECJ: By adopting a certain derogation regime and allowing the capture of 7 species of wild birds, Malta has failed to fulfil its obligations under EU Law

European Court of Justice (ECJ): The ECJ has declared that Malta has failed to fulfil its obligations under EU law by adopting a certain derogation regime not complying with the strict conditions laid down by the Directive on the conservation of wild birds.

Directive 2009/147/EC of European Parliament and of the Council of 30 November 2009 on the conservation of wild birds (Directive) provides that Member States must take the requisite measures to establish a general system of protection for several bird species. Nevertheless, Member States may derogate from that obligation where there is no other satisfactory solution, to permit, under strictly supervised conditions and on a selective basis, the capture, keeping or other judicious use of certain birds in small numbers. In 2014 and 2015, Malta adopted several measures authorising the capture of seven species of finches by means of traditional nets (‘clap-nets’) to benefit from the derogation laid down in the Directive. The European Commission considered these measures not meeting the conditions of the Directive and therefore approached ECJ.

The Court ruled that measures adopted by Malta did not comply with the Directive since they did not contain any reference to the absence of another satisfactory solution. The Court recalled its case-law WWF Italia, C-60/05, EU:C:2006:378 according to which the Member States may authorise actions affecting the protected species only on the basis of decisions containing a clear and sufficient statement of reasons which refers to the conditions of the Directive. Court further noted that the minutes of the meetings of the Ornis Committee cited by Malta did not reveal any in-depth assessment of alternative solutions. The Court determined that Malta has not complied with the condition that derogation must concern only ‘small numbers’ of birds as derogation did not ensure the maintenance of the population of the species concerned at a satisfactory level. In that regard, the Court noted in particular a 2007 study by NGO BirdLife Malta and defects in Malta’s assessment of ‘reference population’.

The Court further remarked that the condition of trapping in small numbers was not met and recreational trapping of birds could not be considered judicious. Additionally, the Court considered that the condition that only the selective live-capturing of finches can be permitted was not met either by the non-selective nature of the method of capturing using nets. Finally, the Court found that Malta has not adduced evidence that the derogation at issue was used under strictly supervised conditions as the density of license holders and registered trapping stations in Malta was very high, and merely 23% of hunters were subject to individual checks. To corroborate this, the Court mentioned trapping inside ‘Natura 2000’ sites.

After making these observations, ECJ concluded that the Republic of Malta has failed to fulfil its obligations under Article 5(a) and (e) and Article 8(1) of Directive read in conjunction with Article 9(1) of that directive. [European Commission v. Republic of Malta, Case C-557/15, order dated 21-06-2018]

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