EU halts French bird law court action

Commission withdraws penalty threat against France; steps up pressure on Spain, Netherlands

The European Commission has dropped a court case against France that could have resulted in the first ever fines against an EU government for failure to comply with community law. The EU executive said today that France had now finally "terminated" a twenty-year-long infringement of the 1979 EU wild birds directive.

Alleging failure to comply with the directive despite a previous judgement, the Commission launched renewed court action in 1998 (ENDS Daily 25 June 1998). It requested a daily penalty of euros 105,500 per day backdated to April 1988 in the case of a second condemnation. Had a ruling emerged this spring on this basis, France could have been forced to pay over euros 460m.

France is facing several legal battles over its implementation of the birds directive, including one over the length of the hunting season and several concerning bird protection in specific regions. The case now dropped concerns a failure in French law to guarantee protection of all species of wild birds.

According to the Commission, a national decree passed last March "improved matters to some extent" by providing for protection for a further 71 species. Recognising this, it reduced the penalty payment request to euros 26,375 per day. A further amending decree passed in June then integrated "all the species of wild birds concerned" into French law, ending the infringement.

In separate developments, the Commission announced legal actions against Spain and the Netherlands over failures to comply with the birds directive. The Netherlands is to be sent a reasoned opinion (final warning) for failure to designate enough "special protection areas" (SPAs) despite being condemned in the European Court of Justice in 1998 (ENDS Daily 19 May 1998). The next stage in the legal process is court action, in which case the Commission could request daily fines.

Meanwhile, the Commission is to launch court action against Spain for failing to designate sufficient SPAs, while also sending a reasoned opinion over rules in one Spanish region that illegally allow hunting of birds during their annual migration.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111. See Commission press notices dated 21/1/00, references IP/00/69 (France) and IP/0068 (Netherlands, Spain), on Rapid.

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