Thirteen elections, two electoral systems

 

 

This Sunday morning, the news will be dominated by the counting process at Naxxar. During the night, until approximately 10.00am this morning, all ballot boxes will be opened and a reconciliation of the votes actually cast is made. The actual counting is scheduled to commence at 10am.

Depending on the difference in votes between the large parties, we may have the first forecast of the result within 30 minutes. However, if the difference is minimal, as was the case in 2008, it will take much longer for accurate forecasts to be made:  it may well be in the early afternoon.

In actual fact, we have in play two different electoral systems, running concurrently on the basis of different rules.

The first electoral system is the Single Transferable Vote system, which is applicable in each and every one of the 13 electoral districts. In fact, we speak of general elections, as in reality we have 13 different and independent elections running in parallel in the various electoral districts. The Single Transferable Vote system is exclusively dependent on the electors’ choices in the last count.

The second electoral system will begin when the counting process in all 13 districts has been completed and seeks to introduce a correlation between the accumulated final count result with the accumulated first count in the electoral districts. As is well known, a correction factor is thereafter applied to remove any discrepancies between the first count and the final count and consequently restore proportionality according to the first count.

This correction of discrepancies is, however, carried out in only two circumstances: namely if a political party surpasses the 50 per cent threshold, and also if only two political parties are elected to Parliament.  In more than two political parties are elected, and none of them exceeds the 50 per cent threshold, then the correction of proportionality discrepancies is simply ignored.

The existence of two parallel electoral systems has its roots in gerrymandering carried out, as a result of which electoral boundaries are periodically tweaked to favour one or the other of the major parties. The most notable cases of such gerrymandering having been carried out prior to the 1971 and the 1981 general elections.

The 1971 gerrymandering exercise did not materialise for just five votes while, as we all know, the 1981 one was successful in that it returned a Labour Government with a three-seat majority when it should have returned a PN government with a one seat majority.

The 1987 Constitutional amendments negotiated by Dom Mintoff and Guido de Marco established a simple and rudimentary majority rule principle. This was subsequently tweaked with additional constitutional amendments in 1996 and 2007, as a result of which the applicability of the proportionality rules were extended to apply where there only exists a relative majority of votes at first count stage. 

The Constitutional rules makes one basic assumption: that only two parliamentary political parties exist and in fact the 2007 amendments extended the applicability of the adjustment mechanism to both parties.

The physical counting of votes will be carried out under the watchful eyes of representatives of all political parties and the candidates themselves.

Human error, and maybe more, contributes to a number of mistakes during the counting process. Some are generally identified and corrected immediately. Others pass by un-noticed, nobody being aware of their potential impact. During the 2013 General Elections count – as a result of an obvious lack of attention of the party representatives – two such mistakes cost the PN two Parliamentary seats, only for the Constitutional Court to decide on the matter 44 months later.

Given these mistakes in 2013, in all probability the atmosphere in the counting hall will be more tense than usual, with the PN and PL representatives competing over who has the best scrutinising skills.

To the many predictions that have already been made as to the possible results I will certainly not add mine. One thing is however certain: this Sunday will be a very long day.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday 4 June 2017 

 

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Kumpens doppju għaIl-PN

 PN. arma imkisra

 

Huwa tajjeb li l-Qorti Kostituzzjonali, fuq talba tal-Partit Nazzjonalista, eżaminat l-iżbalji fl-għadd tal-voti fl-elezzjoni ġenerali tal-2013. Avolja damet ftit iżżejjed biex waslet għal konklużjoni.

Imma l-PN, wara li ngħata żewġ siġġijiet oħra, issa spiċċa biex ingħata kumpens doppju tal-voti li kiseb fl-elezzjoni ġenerali tal-2013. Għax filwaqt li issa ħa żżewġ siġġijiet ġodda il-PN baqa bl-4 siġġijiet kumpens li kien ħa fl-2013.

Sitwazzjoni li ma nistax ngħidilha farsa, għax tad-daħq mhiex.

Imma ċertament l-anqas ma nista insejħilha ġustizzja, għax hi deċiżjoni inġusta.

Sadanittant, il-PN fil-Gvern dejjem sab diffikulta biex jaċċetta li anke Alternattiva Demokratika għandha dritt għal rappresentanza proporzjonali. Għax il-5000 vot u fuqhom li kellha Alternattiva Demokratika fl-elezzjoni tal-2013 bla dubju kellhom jissarfu f’rappresentanza ferm iktar mill-pakkett ta’ 50 vot ta’ Claudette Buttigieg!

Is-siġġijiet tal-PN u l-proporzjonalitá

constitution-article-521

Il-Qorti Kostituzzjonali tat deċiżjoni dwar l-ilment kostituzzjonali tal-PN u iddeċidiet illi l-PN għandu jingħata żewġ siġġijiet addizzjonali fil-Parlament. Din hi d-deċiżjoni finali tal-Qrati Maltin dwar il-każ, u allura issa ser tkun implimentata.

Hi deċiżjoni li jixirqiha kull rispett, imma dan ir-rispett ma jfissirx li hi deċiżjoni tajba, għax fil-fatt hi deċiżjoni żbaljata. Għax ma kellhomx jiżdiedu s-siġġijiet, imma kellhom jitnaqqsu! Il-calculator tal-Prim Imħallef ħa żball. Kulħadd jista jiżbalja, mhux hekk?

Ovvjament il-Partit Nazzjonalista bħalissa qiegħed jippontifika dwar il-proporzjonalitá bejn voti miksuba u siġġijiet mirbuħa fil-Parlament. Peró l-proporzjonalitá li jemmen fiha l-PN hi dik bejn il-PN u l-Labour. Din wasslet biex għal żball ta’ ħamsin vot il-PN jippretendi żewġ siġġijiet Parlamentari, imma fl-istess ħin il-5506 vot fl-ewwel għadd ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika fl-aħħar elezzjoni ġenerali huma injorati.

Sewwa, 50 vot, skond il-PN, jixirqilhom rappresentanza imma 5506 vot għandhom ikunu injorati.

Ser ikun hemm min iwieġibni u jgħidli: jekk Alternattiva Demokratika jidhriha xi ħaġa messha tmur il-Qorti hi ukoll. It-tweġiba tiegħi hi waħda ċara: Alternattiva Demokratika diġá għandha parir legali li meta l-Kostituzzjoni ta’ Malta tipprovdi għal proporzjonalitá unikament għal żewġ partiti u tinjora lil bqija din qegħda tiddiskrimina.

Nafu li għandna raġun.

Il-problema hi biss li l-establishment jaħsibha mod ieħor. Meta jidhrilna li jkun il-mument opportun, nieħdu l-passi neċessarji.

Is the abrogative referendum under threat ?

article 14. Referenda Act

 

Until Alternattiva Demokratika announced the abrogative referendum campaign  on spring hunting almost two years ago, few Maltese citizens were aware that they had such a right.  Now that this right has been used for the first time since it has been placed on the statute book, it is apparently under threat.

The hunters’ lobby is now aiming at curtailing the right to an abrogative referendum. The hunters maintain that when the Referenda Act was applied in trying to abrogate the regulations permitting spring hunting it was aiming at their rights – “minority rights” they said.

Hunters had presented these same arguments though their representatives for the consideration of the Constitutional Court, which shot them down last January. In fact the Constitutional Court in paragraphs 51 to 54 of its 24-page decision, considers this very point. The hunters, said the Constitutional Court, claim that their rights are minority rights. However no potential breach of a provision of the Constitution of Malta or of the European Convention of Human Rights have been indicated in their submissions. The Constitutional Court goes on to say the following :

“It is right to emphasise that in implementing majority rule the rights of the minority should be respected. However this respect is not attained, as suggested by the Federation [FKNK] by obstructing people from expressing themselves through a referendum.”  [Tassew illi d-dritt tal-maġġoranza għandu jitwettaq b’rispett lejn id-dritt tal-minoranza, iżda dan ir-rispett ma jinkisibx billi, kif trid il-Federazzjoni, il-poplu ma jitħalliex isemma’ leħnu f’referendum.]

This same argument  was also the subject of a petition to Parliament organised by the hunters’ lobby and presented in Parliament by Parliamentary Secretary Michael Falzon some months ago.  In recent days, comments have been made indicating that shortly we may be hearing of the government’s reactions to this petition. These reactions will most probably be in the form of proposals for amendments to the Referenda Act of 1973, in particular amendments to the provisions regulating the holding of an abrogative referendum – provisions which were originally approved by Parliament in 1996 and brought in force in 1998.

The provisions of  the Referenda Act in Malta providing for the holding of an abrogative referendum are already very restrictive.  From what has been stated, hunters want such provisions to be even more restrictive.  In this sense they have already made public a proposal that a definite time window within which signatures for an abrogative referendum have to be collected has to be established.  In Italian legislation, for example, there exists a 90-day window within which the collection of signatures has to be carried out. Such a time window may be a reasonable proposal within the Italian legal system, but then in Italy the number of voter signatures required to trigger the abrogative referendum process is proportionately much lower than that required in Malta.

The number of signatures required to kick-start the abrogative referendum process in Malta is 10 per cent of the registered voters. This currently stands at slightly under 34,000 signatures. In Italy, by contrast, half-a-million signatures – or the consent of five regional councils – is required. The number  of signatures required in Italy amount to approximately one per cent of the electorate, meaning that the corresponding requirement in Malta is ten times as much!

I will not speculate over how the government will seek to translate the hunters’ petition into legislation. I have limited myself to one specific proposal.

It is still unclear as to what type of amendments to the Referenda Act will be submitted by government. One thing is, however, very clear:  we need to keep our eyes wide open to ensure that our rights are not reduced.

The abrogative referendum is an important tool in our democratic society, even though it has been made use of only once in its 19-year existence.  Let us hope that government will not succumb to pressures to have it diluted or removed.

published in The Malta Indpendent on Sunday : 19 April 2015

Ir-referendum u l-partiti politiċi (1)

new-identity.jpg

 

It-tlett partiti politiċi f’Malta ħadu posizzjonijiet kompletament differenti fir-referendum abrogattiv dwar il-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa.

Alternattiva Demokratika ġiebet flimkien l-għaqdiet ambjentali kollha u flimkien magħhom organizzat il-ġbir tal-firem li kienu meħtieġa biex ir-referendum ikun jista’ jsir.  Sad-data tad-deċiżjoni tal-Qorti Kostituzzjonali  Alternattiva Demokratika kellha rwol ċentrali fil-kampanja referendarja. Wara dik id-data dan ir-rwol ċentrali kif inhu xieraq għadda għand il-Birdlife. Alternattiva Demokratika baqgħet tinvolvi ruħa fil-preparamenti kollha meħtieġa.

Alternattiva Demokratika kien l-uniku partit politiku f’Malta li ikkampanja favur il-LE. Alternattiva Demokratika hi ukoll l-uniku partit politiku f’Malta li fil-programm elettorali għandu imniżżel ċar u tond li l-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa trid tispiċċa.

Taking back control

turtle dove

 

Throughout this Sunday morning the Electoral Commission will supervise the counting of the votes cast  in yesterday’s  spring hunting abrogative referendum. The first reliable projections of the result should be available at around  10.00am with a final result early in the afternoon.

Irrespective of the result, this is history in the making as, for the first time ever, Maltese voters will be directly taking a decision on environmental policy. They will decide whether spring hunting in the Maltese islands will be consigned to the history books.

This is the end of a two year journey that began in  April 2013 when the first steps were taken to form a broad-based anti-spring hunting Coalition of  environmental NGOs together with Alternattiva Demokratika-The Green Party in Malta. Initially, Alternattiva Demokratika’s initiative was met with scepticism: there was widespread fear of confronting the parliamentary political parties which had created the current spring hunting mess.

Constructive dialogue with both the Maltese authorities as well as with the EU Commission had failed to yield results, yet when push came to shove there was still considerable reluctance to think outside the box.  This mess could not be cleared by applying the same thinking that led to its creation. The spring hunting mess was created by successive governments that were held to ransom by the hunting lobby. There was only one solution: government was the problem so it could never be part of the solution – civil society had to take back control of the decision-making process to have order restored.

This was going to be a mammoth task. The fact that the abrogative referendum tool had never been used since its introduction in 1998 understandably added to the reluctance.

As late as 18 June 2013, some environmental NGOs were still hoping that the Maltese Government, or the EU Commission itself, would act in a reasonable manner and stop spring hunting.  In fact, reports in the press at that time were speculating on then EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik initiating an inquiry into spring hunting in Malta.

Early in the day, few people were conscious of the empowerment potential of the abrogative referendum. Almost none of the eNGOs was aware that the abrogative referendum process is independent  of government or Parliament.  Some eNGOs  supported the initiative almost immediately but it was an uphill struggle to convince others, taking weeks and a great deal of patience until practically all eNGOs were on board.

The collection of signatures to initiate the process for calling this abrogative referendum was launched on 10 August 2013 at Il-Buskett. Initially the uptake was very slow, as voters took some time to understand that this was no ordinary petition.

Then, on 23 and 24 October 2013, one of the worst massacres of wild birds in Malta took place. It is best described in a Birdlife Press release which stated  as follows :

“Despite the presence of six BirdLife Malta teams and as many ALE units in the Buskett area this morning at least one Booted Eagle, Ajkla tal-Kalzetti, was shot down inside Buskett Gardens as it left its roost this morning. Several others, including Short-toed and Booted Eagles, were shot at and many more were seen carrying injuries after last night’s shooting spree by hunters in Dingli, Buskett, Girgenti, Siġġiewi and Zebbuġ.

This morning’s second confirmed victim was a Short-toed Eagle, Ajkla Bajda, shot down in Gozo.

The shootings follow what can only be described as a massacre yesterday evening, after more than 50 eagles were seen by birdwatchers counting passing migrating birds in their regular watch-point above the wooded valley of Buskett. At least 10 eagles are known to have been shot down and many more targeted by dozens of hunters in locations around Buskett. Several as yet unconfirmed reports were also received from members of the public who saw eagles and other large birds of prey being shot at and shot down.”

This marked the turning point in signature collection as within ten days of the massacre of these eagles the required number of signatures had been received . The verification process was commenced immediately and the petition was finalised for submission to the Electoral Commission.

By July 2014, the Electoral Commission had concluded its vetting of the signatures submitted and six months later, in January this year, the Constitutional Court threw out the hunters’ objections.

For the past three months we have been actively campaigning to drive the message home: spring is the time when birds are on the way to their breeding grounds. They need to be protected. This message has been conveyed through the different spokesman and women ambassadors who, together with hundreds of volunteers, have done wonders to ensure that practically every voter is aware the he or she has the power to take a decision in order to clean up the mess which Parliament and the government have created over the years.

Today we will know what the decision is.  Saving any last minute surprises, it is clear that after today’s result Maltese civil society will cherish its newly discovered empowerment. Tomorrow, Monday, will not be just the start of a new week.  Hopefully, it be the start of a new era of ever-vigilant NGOs, now armed with the knowledge that they can hold government to account for inadequate legislation whenever they consider that this is necessary.

The abrogative referendum is the tool through which civil society can bring government to order. Today’s result will just confirm whether it can make use of it.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 11 April 2015

Il-Ġimgħa 10 t’April hu jum ir-riflessjoni dwar ir-referendum abrogattiv

turtle doves just shot         submission of referendum signature requests

 

Qed nikteb dan l-artiklu ftit qabel ma jibda l-jum tal-Ġimgħa. Jum ir-riflessjoni. Nirriflettu dwar dak li smajna matul l-aħħar ġranet, ġimgħat u xhur.

Kif wasalna s’hawn?

Wara snin twal li fihom il-kaċċaturi mexxew lill-Gvern Malti minn imnieħru kellhom ikunu l-firem ta’ 41494 il-ċittadin Malti li poġġew il-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa fuq l-agenda nazzjonali. Dan sar billi talbu li jsir referendum abrogattiv biex jispiċċaw ir-regolamenti li jippermettu l-kaċċa tal-gamiem u tas-summien fir-rebbiegħa.

Il-kaċċaturi u l-għaqdiet tagħhom, kif kellhom kull dritt li jagħmlu, marru l-Qorti Kostituzzjonali bit-tama li jsibu x-xagħra fl-għaġina u b’hekk iżommu r-referendum abrogattiv milli jsir.

Il-Qorti Kostituzzjonali f’deċiżjoni li tat f’Jannar li għadda qalet li ma hemm l-ebda raġuni li tista’ żżomm lir-referendum milli jsir. Fuq dan il-blog ktibt sitt artikli li fihom spjegati fil-qosor dak li qalet il-Qorti. Dawn l-artikli tista taqrahom hawn : 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 u 6.  Jekk trid tista’ taqra ukoll id-deċiżjoni sħiħa tal-Qorti Kostituzzjonali hawn.

Fis-sentenza tal-Qorti Kostituzzjonali għandkom spjegat l-istorja kollha f’dawn is-siegħat ta’ skiet u riflessjoni.

Nerġgħu nitkellmu wara l-10.00pm tas-Sibt meta tieqaf il-votazzjoni.

Ftakru ħaġa waħda : huwa l-vot LE biss li permezz tiegħu tista’ twaqqaf il-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa.

11 April 2015 : Empowerment Day

empowerment

The spring hunting referendum called as result of a citizens’ petition and scheduled for 11 April 2015 will protect birds. It will honour a basic requirement spelled out in the EU’s Birds Directive, which insists on this protection along birds’ migratory routes on the way to their breeding grounds.

The spring hunting referendum signifies different things to different persons. It is first and foremost a concrete step in addressing a bird conservation issue which has been ignored throughout the years, despite Malta’s international obligations. It will also facilitate access to the countryside for one and all throughout spring. In addition it is also a democratic tool through which civil society stands up to the countryside bullies. When all three achievements are attained, and eventually taken for granted, there will be one lasting consequence: the spring hunting referendum will be the defining moment of empowerment of Maltese civil society.  It will be the gift of present day civil society to future generations.

When addressing Parliament on the abrogative referendum on 12 January, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat recognised this fact and declared that the dominant role of politicians in decision taking is changing (“naħseb li bħala politiċi irridu nifhmu li l-proċess li wassal għal dan ir-referendum huwa sinjal taż-żminijiet. Huwa sinjal li d-dominanza tal-politiċi fit-teħid tad-deċiżjonijiet qed tonqos.”)

On the 11 April civil society in Malta will come of age.

11 April will be the point when civil society realises that, at the end of the day, it is the source of all authority in decision taking structures. 11 April can be the day when this authority is  made use of to rectify past mistaken decisions.  In so doing, civil society in Malta will be giving notice to one and all that ultimately the common good can and will prevail.

When the petition calling for the abrogative referendum on spring hunting was doing the rounds, some thought that it was just another petition, which would be forgotten as soon as it was submitted. However, when the Constitutional Court delivered its decision on the 9 January giving the green light to the first abrogative referendum in the Maltese islands, the message was received clearly by one and all.

11 April means that change is possible. Moreover it also means that change is not dependent on general election results. The dormant authority of civil society is being reactivated.

Last Wednesday, a group of jurists led by former European Court of Human Rights Judge Giovanni Bonello explained to the press that the spring hunting referendum posed no threat to any hobby. In practically all cases which were listed in a study released by the group of jurists, it is evident that the abrogative referendum itself cannot even be applied to the said hobbies. Most hobbies are unregulated, meaning that there is no legislation of relevance to abrogate. In this respect the abrogative referendum procedure is not applicable!

As regards other hobbies like horse racing, the manufacture and letting off of fireworks and off-roading, existing laws and regulations specify who the licensing authorities are, and the rules to be followed. Subjecting these rules to an abrogative referendum would mean that these activities would be unfettered by regulations, if a hypothetical referendum were approved. That could not in any way be construed as a threat to such hobbies or pastimes.

The jurists were replying to the scaremongering campaign of the hunting lobby.

It is pretty obvious that the hunting lobby is not enthusiastic about citizens being empowered to call an abrogative referendum and decide, where applicable, contentious issues. They prefer to discuss issues behind closed doors, where they can lobby and barter their votes for concessions. This is what they did throughout the years and this is the essential background to the present state of affairs.

This is the reason why some months back the hunting lobby petitioned Parliament to overhaul the referendum legislation. In their petition they asked for protection of some imaginary “minority rights” which the Constitutional Court on 9 January, declared as being inexistent.

On 11 April, we will for the first time ever vote in an abrogative referendum called through a citizens’ initiative. We will decide whether we agree or not with the regulations which permit hunting of quail and turtledove in spring on their way to breed. I do not agree with spring hunting and will be voting NO.

I invite you to join me in voting NO, thereby abolishing spring hunting in Malta for the benefit of birds and future generations.

 

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 1 February 2015

Real and imaginary referenda

Kacca + Vot

 

The abrogative referendum which was given the green light by Malta’s Constitutional Court earlier this month is the first of its kind. It is a referendum which, if successful, will delete from Malta’s statute book regulations which permit spring hunting on quail and turtledove.

In its efforts to  build up support in favour of the retention of spring hunting, the hunting lobby has been repeatedly sending out the message that if this referendum were to succeed, it would pave the way for a multitude of other referenda which, in their words, would threaten various hobbies which they label as minorities. They mention a few of these hobbies  among which pigeon racing.  Obviously, they fail to state that the only real threat to racing pigeon enthusiasts here are those who shoot at anything that flies. And it is not just a one-off incident.

The hunting lobby is not enthusiastic  about the referendum process enhancing democracy in our islands by granting the possibility to voters to demand that a specific legislative instrument is subjected to a  popular vote. They would rather that such a right did not exist.  As witnessed throughout recent years, the hunting lobby prefers the option to acquire concessions through back room deals and agreements with political parties arrived at through a process of bartering votes for concessions.  The statement “NO Kaċċa, NO vote” has been all too familiar in public manifestations organised by the hunting lobby throughout the years.

The abrogative referendum in Malta was introduced through amendments to the Referendum Act approved by Parliament in 1996. Going through the transcripts of the Parliamentary Debate of the 15th and  16th January 1996 reveals an interesting contrast between the speeches of Eddie Fenech Adami, then Prime Minister, and Alfred Sant, then Leader of the Opposition, in the second reading stage of the debate.

Dr Fenech Adami  spoke in favour of a limited right of referendum – limited in the sense that a set of identified legislative instruments could not be subjected to an abrogative referendum.  On the other hand, Dr Sant wanted to extend the limitations. In fact, he emphasised that once a political proposal was part of a political party’s electoral manifesto it should not be possible to subject it to the abrogative referendum process.  Fenech Adami and Sant had also disagreed on whether  it was the appropriate time to introduce a citizens’ initiative through which rather than using the referendum as a negative instrument to cancel a legislative instrument, it would be utilised to submit a proposal to popular vote.  This could take the form of a proposal that Parliament should legislate on a specific matter, or even possibly that policies be drafted relative to neglected issues.

The conclusions of the 1996 debate are with us today, being applied for the first time: Parliament decided to introduce the right to petition for the deletion of legislation. It did not opt to introduce the right to propose new initiatives.

When Parliament decided on the parameters within which the abrogative referendum was to operate, it specifically excluded a number of laws – the Constitution, the European Convention Act and all fiscal legislation; also, all matters required in  implementing any international treaty to which Malta is party cannot be subjected to an abrogative referendum. Likewise, the legislative measures introducing the right to an abrogative referendum as well as electoral legislation cannot be the subject of a petition leading to an abrogative referendum.

When identifying the subject matter for a referendum, the petitioners, with the help of their advisors, examine the different legislative instruments  which deal with the issues under consideration.  Care must be exercised such that the legislation selected as the subject of the referendum does not go beyond what is strictly required. For the 11 April referendum the Coalition for the Abolition of Spring Hunting opted for a 2010 Legal Notice  entitled Framework for Allowing a Derogation Opening a Spring Hunting Season for Turtle Dove and Quail Regulations as the legislative instrument to be voted upon. In so doing, the Coalition’s referendum petition differentiated between the general regulatory legislation on wild birds and the legislation which defined the exceptions which are being permitted during spring. The target of the abrogative referendum being the exception to the rule.

As a result the referendum petition is clear and specific and leads to one conclusion: the abolition or otherwise of spring hunting in Malta. This is the only referendum on the national agenda .

 

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday – 25 January 2015

Protecting the birds, reclaiming the countryside

 

turtle doves just shot

The abolition of spring hunting will lead to the protection of birds when they most need it. All birds will be protected, not just the quail and turtle dove.  Birds need our protection during the spring as it is the time of the year when they breed or are preparing to breed. Every bird which is shot during spring signifies that there will be one less nest and consequently there will be fewer birds in the following seasons.

The Birds  Directive of the European Union is an integral part of Maltese law since, and as a result of, Malta’s EU  accession in 2004. The Directive expressly states that EU Member States along migratory bird routes have a far greater responsibility regarding bird protection. This responsibility is spelled out in article 7(4) of the Directive where it is very clearly stated that : “In the case of migratory species, [member states] shall see in particular that the species to which hunting regulations apply are not hunted during their period of reproduction or during their return to their rearing grounds.” This applies to all bird migratory routes throughout EU territory without exception.

The Birds Directive is not a Directive about hunting but about the protection of birds. It does, however, recognise that circumstances may arise as a result of which it may be necessary to permit an exception, which exception is called “a derogation”. Exceptions are very well defined in article 9(1) of the Birds Directive (vide box) and these are the only circumstances in respect of which an EU member state may derogate from its obligations under the Birds Directive. It follows that whilst EU members have the authority to permit an exception, such an exception, or derogation,  must be within the three general parameters determined by the Directive. It is not a right but a tool for addressing the specific situations mentioned in the Directive. Readers will very easily notice that the permissible derogations make no reference to the killing of birds for fun – commonly referred to as “hunting”.

Member states permit thousands of derogations in their territory every year. Derogations in respect of birds that are considered agricultural pests or a potential threat to the safety of aeroplanes are the most frequent cases where derogations are permitted. I am informed that the list of these thousands of derogations all over EU territory does not contain one single case which refers to a derogation for the purpose of sports during spring. Malta is the only exception.

Being on a migratory bird route means that Malta has an international responsibility to protect all birds returning to their rearing grounds to reproduce. This return occurs annually during spring, hence the need to abolish spring hunting. It is a duty we have towards the international community in respect of all the birds migrating through Maltese airspace.

The abrogative referendum, in respect of which Malta’s Constitutional Court decided that no valid objections had been filed, will ask voters whether or not they agree with the regulations that permit a spring hunting derogation for two specific species: turtle dove and quail. These regulations are contained in the Framework for Allowing a Derogation Opening a Spring Hunting Season for Turtle Dove and Quail Regulations, originally published in 2010.

Voting NO on the 11 April  will protect  birds migrating over Malta during spring as well as restore back to the public access to the countryside at that time of the year. It will also eliminate the negative impact (through the sound of gunfire and the trampling all over the countryside) which will further help to attract and allow other breeding birds (not just quail and turtle dove) to nest in our country.

Currently, Malta’s countryside is practically inaccessible during the spring hunting season as one runs the risk of being showered with hunters’ pellets. Maltese families have very little access to the countryside when hunters are enjoying their spring derogation- and a number of them shooting at anything that flies.

This means that Maltese families and their children are being deprived of enjoying nature in all its splendour. We are all entitled to enjoy the countryside, which belongs to us all and not just to a select few. This enjoyment is currently being obstructed by the spring hunting derogation which the Parliamentary parties have been defending continuously.  It is about time that we reclaimed our right to fully enjoy nature in spring, while simultaneously allowing birds to continue breeding.

A total of 41,494 citizens signed a petition which has resulted in the abrogative referendum that will be held on 11 April 2015. This is a unique opportunity to protect the birds and help re-establish our families’ links with nature during the spring.  Let us use this opportunity well by voting NO, thereby rejecting the regulations contained in the spring hunting derogation and consigning spring hunting in Malta to the dustbin of history.

article 9. derogation

 

published in the Independent – Sunday 18 January 2015