The judgement will not force any policy changes by France because environment minister Dominique Voynet succeeded in pushing through a shorter hunting season, in line with the directive, this summer (ENDS Daily 29 June). But the ECJ was bound to issue a ruling on the case because it had already legally reached a point of no return.
In the second case, the Commission alleged that France had failed to fulfil its obligations under the same directive by not classifying an area in the Basses Corbières region as a special protection area (SPA) for birds and by continuing to allow quarrying to take place there.
The ECJ has agreed that SPA status should have been granted to Basses Corbières, but ruled against the Commission on the second point. Because SPA status had not been granted, France could not be condemned for failing to protect migrating birds from the quarrying, the court ruled.
* In a related development, the French government has made progress in a bid to transpose a backlog of 50 EU directives on various themes, some of them environmental. MPs threatened to stall the initiative this week, but relented after an intervention by prime minister Lionel Jospin.
Mr Jospin reminded MPs that compliance with EU law should be a priority, especially since France currently holds the rotating EU presidency. When its term began in July, France was behind schedule in transposing 136 directives, Mr Jospin said.
One of the EU laws in the batch now going through fast-track transposition is the 1992 habitats directive. MPs agreed its passage only after receiving a promise from the government that local authorities would be consulted when special areas of conservation are chosen and that hunting would not be considered "a disturbing human activity" under the law.
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