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    Maltese EU Commissioner nominee grilled over birds “massacre”

    Karmenu Vella, the candidate to be the EU’s next environment commissioner, was faced with tough questions from MEPs over what he will do to address the “massacre” of wild birds in Malta. At the same parliamentary hearing, Chris Packham, the well known UK TV presenter and environmental campaigner, said EU rules on the protection of birds must be “defended at all costs.”

    Mr Vella has been tasked by Commission President elect Jean-Claude Juncker with “re-evaluating” the EU’s Birds Directive, a law that his home country of Malta has been found to be breaking by European courts.

    The European Parliament Environment Committee and Fisheries Committee held a hearing with Karmenu Vella on Tuesday.

    MEPs from both committees will now give their opinion as to whether the European Parliament should accept his candidacy, taking into account his performance at the hearing.

    In the nomination hearing, UK Liberal Democrat MEP Catherine Bearder challenged Vella on what he will do to stop the illegal killing of migratory birds in Malta.

    Mr Vella commented that he condemns illegal hunting in Malta, adding “I expect member states to implement all EU directives” and that “abuses shall not be tolerated.”

    Following the hearing, Liberal Democrat MEP Catherine Bearder commented: “People want to see EU rules on protecting our wildlife properly enforced, not watered down.

    “I will now be holding Mr Vella’s feet to the fire and ensuring he lives up to his word – including on action to stop illegal bird-hunting in Malta.

    “Any attempts to water down legislation that preserves Europe’s biodiversity will be met by fierce opposition by me and other like-minded MEPs.”

    Further comment came from the BBC´s Packham, who said, “Given his pro-hunting Maltese credentials, a lot of people are astonished Mr Vella was offered this post and are concerned about the implications this has for protecting and improving EU environmental law.

    “The EU Birds Directive is a vital and hard-won framework for the protection of birds in Europe. It must be defended at all costs, without it Europe would be a far worse place. The last thing we want is any attempts to weaken or water it down.

    “Myself and other conservationists are immensely grateful for Catherine Bearder and her colleagues’ support. To see this issue recognised by MEPs is extremely heartening and shows the importance of using the democratic process to meet our collective aims.”

    In his mission letter outlining priorities for the next 5 years, Juncker asked Vella to evaluate the Birds and Habitats and Directives and “assess the potential for merging them into a more modern piece of legislation.”

    A vote on whether to approve the 28 new European Commissioners is due to take place at the European Parliament’s next plenary session in Strasbourg, which will take place from the 20th to 23rd October.

    By Martin Banks