Rebuff for Voynet over French hunting law

Senate re-introduces longer hunting season, threatening further conflict with EU Commission

France's upper parliamentary house dealt a severe blow to efforts by environment minister Dominique Voynet to tighten controls on wild bird hunting late on Thursday night, rejecting new limits on the length of the season for hunting migratory birds which were aimed at bringing France into line with EU law. The development also looks set to prevent any new law entering into force by the end of June as promised by prime minister Lionel Jospin.

First presented in February, Ms Voynet's hunting law is an attempt to reconcile fiercely opposed pro and anti-hunting domestic lobbies while also assuring the European Commission that France will respect rules in the 1979 wild birds directive that forbid hunting of migratory species during vulnerable periods such as nesting and migration. The proposal successfully passed through the lower parliamentary house in April (ENDS Daily 5 April).

In the senate, however, pro-hunting forces re-took the initiative, rolling back key elements proposed by Ms Voynet. In particular, senators voted to re-introduce specific opening and closing dates for hunting into the law. These depend on species and run from the third Saturday in July at the earliest to 28 February. The dates are similar to those under current law, which are set department-by-department according to species and which led the European Commission to start court action in December 1998 (ENDS Daily 3 December 1998).

In further blows to Ms Voynet's law, the senate deleted a clause imposing Wednesday as a non-hunting day, proposed allowing night hunting in 11 more departments than the 20 proposed by Ms Voynet, and restricted the rights of landowners to prevent bird hunting on their properties.

The minister described herself as "deeply disappointed" by the vote. Environmental group France Nature Environment said it was "revolted" by the Senate's changes, which it said took the country "several decades backwards". A special commission of members of both parliamentary houses was due to meet today to discuss the law.

Follow Up:
French senate, tel: +33 1 42 34 20 00; French environment ministry, tel: +33 1 42 19 20 21.

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