French hunting law crosses first hurdle

Parliament narrowly approves controversial new rules, fails to placate NGOs, hunters

A controversial French hunting law intended to bring national rules into line with EU legislation was approved at first reading yesterday by the lower parliamentary house (Assemblé Nationale). The new rules were passed by just 23 votes, with a number of government MPs voting against in protest at the limits it will impose on France's powerful and deep-rooted hunting tradition.

The law bans hunting of migratory birds during their breeding and migratory seasons, in accordance with the 1979 EU wild birds directive. It also shortens the bird hunting season from its current seven months to six, so that it will now run from the third Saturday in July to 31 January. The European Commission launched a court action against France in 1998 over the length of its hunting season (ENDS Daily 3 December 1998).

As approved by the parliament, the measure also allows night hunting, which is currently prohibited, in 20 French districts. At district level, hunting will be subject to local authority rules. Wednesdays will be made "no hunting" days to protect children, many of whom do not attend school on this day.

Described by environment minister Dominique Voynet as a possible route to an "armistice" between France's bitterly opposed pro- and anti-hunting groups, the law nevertheless continues to arouse strong emotions. Hunting organisations and environmental groups both reacted with disappointment to yesterday's vote in parliament.

Follow Up:
French environment ministry, tel: +33 1 42 19 20 21; draft law and last week's parliamentary debates.

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