France faces more court cases over birds

Commission takes tough action in bid to force French hunters to respect EU law

France is to face two new court cases for failure to respect the EU's 1979 directive on the protection of wild birds, the European Commission announced yesterday. The move could lead to there being three cases simultaneously under way against France relating to the same directive.

The Commission's latest move underlines its determination to bring France into line over rules on bird protection in general and bird hunting in particular. It won a court judgement against France in April 1988 over aspects of the directive's prohibitions on direct threats to birds. It took the case back to the Court of Justice again this year, alleging France's failure to comply with the earlier judgement. If the Commission wins this case it will request daily fines of Ecu105,500 against France.

The new cases relate to separate requirements in the directive concerning the length of hunting seasons and on protection requirements for four particular species. Most controversially, the Commission is challenging France's powerful hunting lobby over the length of time that hunting is allowed in many parts of the country.

The birds directive disallows hunting during periods of greatest vulnerability such as migration, reproduction and dependence of young birds. French rules clearly flout these principles, the Commission alleges, because the French hunting season sometimes overlaps with the period of dependence of young birds by seven weeks. Furthermore, for 13 out of 51 huntable migratory bird species, the end of the French hunting season is "obviously much too late," it goes on.

In the second case, the Commission alleges that insufficient protection is being given to Herring Gulls, Black-headed Gulls, Yellow-legged Gulls and the Cormorants. All four species are controlled as pests in France, as in other countries, but this is not allowed in the absence of a derogation enshrined in legally binding provisions.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 295 1111.

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