Brussels, 20 November 2009
Italy: Commission seeks urgent injunction to prevent hunting of protected birds; takes court action over missing industrial permits
The Commission is calling on the European Court of Justice to issue an injunction against Italy to prevent the hunting of protected bird species in the Lombardy region. Court action is already pending against a number of regions, including Lombardy, for the practice of allowing hunting derogations which do not comply with the strict conditions laid down in EU law. However, the Commission has decided to take urgent action after Lombardy passed new legislation which allows the hunting of four protected species until 31 December 2009. In a separate case, the Commission is taking Italy to the European Court of Justice for failing to issue or update permits for several hundred industrial operations.
EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: “Member States must follow the correct rules for the conservation of bird species to help prevent biodiversity loss. EU nature legislation allows for derogations for a limited number of reasons, although these exceptions are only possible when there is no alternative solution and strict conditions are met. It is also unacceptable that industrial installations continue to operate without the necessary permits to minimise polluting emissions, and with consequences for human health and the environment.”
Commission seeks injunction against Italy over hunting derogations
A number of regions have for many years adopted and continue to adopt legislation and derogations permitting the hunting of birds in breach of the Birds Directive. The regions concerned are: Abruzzo, Lazio, Lombardy, Emilia Romagna, Marche, Calabria, Apulia and Tuscany. This case (ref. C-573/08) is currently before the European Court of Justice awaiting judgment. However, after the Lombardy region recently passed new legislation which allows the hunting of four protected species until 31 December 2009, the Commission has decided to seek an injunction from the Court to immediately suspend the legislation concerned. The four species affected are the Chaffinch ( Fringilla coelebs), Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla), Meadow pipit (Anthus pratensis) and Hawfinch (Coccothraustes coccothraustes).
The decision to seek an injunction (under Articles 242 and 243 of the EC Treaty) is taken by the Commission only as a last resort, where immediate and irreversible damage to the environment will occur. It is only the fourth time that such an order has been sought by the Commission, with previous cases concerning a law permitting the spring hunting of birds in Malta in April 2008 ( ), the proposed construction of a road through the Rospuda river valley in Poland in March 2007 (see ) and hunting derogations in breach of the Birds Directive for the region of Liguria, Italy, in December 2006.
Hunting rules at EU level
Hunting is regulated in the EU by the 1979 Birds Directive 1 . Although the Directive contains a general prohibition on the killing of wild birds, it does allow certain species to be hunted provided this does not happen during breeding or migration. These closed periods are critical and allow wild birds to renew their numbers. Hunting periods are set at national levels, and vary according to species and geographical location.
Exceptionally, Member States may allow the capture or killing of birds covered by the Directive outside the normal hunting season for a limited number of reasons, although such derogations are only applied when there is no alternative solution. The Commission supports sustainable hunting, and a ground-breaking agreement on sustainable hunting was signed in 2004 by hunters and bird conservationists at EU level.
Commission takes Italy to Court over missing industrial permits
The European Commission is taking Italy to the European Court of Justice for failing to issue new or updated permits for several hundred industrial operations.
The infringement concerns the EU Directive on Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) 2 which aims to prevent and control industrial emissions to air, water and soil.
The Directive required Member States by 30 October 2007 to issue new permits or reconsider, and where necessary, update existing permits for all industrial installations that were in operation before October 1999.
Data provided by Italy shows that there are several hundred installations for which new or updated permits have still not been issued. Following two written warnings, the Commission has decided to refer Italy to the European Court of Justice. The Commission recently took similar action against six other Member States for not issuing new or updated permits (see ).
Article 226 of the Treaty gives the Commission powers to take legal action against a Member State that is not respecting its obligations.
If the Commission considers that there may be an infringement of EU law that warrants the opening of an infringement procedure, it addresses a "Letter of Formal Notice" (first written warning) to the Member State concerned, requesting it to submit its observations by a specified date, usually within two months.
In the light of the reply or absence of a reply from the Member State concerned, the Commission may decide to address a "Reasoned Opinion" (second and final written warning) to the Member State. This clearly and definitively sets out the reasons why it considers there to have been an infringement of EU law and calls upon the Member State to comply within a specified period, normally two months.
If the Member State fails to comply with the Reasoned Opinion, the Commission may decide to bring the case before the European Court of Justice. Where the Court of Justice finds that the Treaty has been infringed, the offending Member State is required to take the measures necessary to conform.
Article 228 of the Treaty gives the Commission power to act against a Member State that does not comply with a previous judgement of the European Court of Justice. The article also allows the Commission to ask the Court to impose a financial penalty on the Member State concerned.
For rulings by the European Court of Justice see:
Directive 96/61/EC, codified by Directive 2008/1/EC