10 October 2019
Europe’s top court has upheld the strict protection that EU law offers to wolves and other species in a judgment today.
The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) was asked by the Supreme Administrative Court of Finland to clarify whether the Finnish government’s decision to allow wolves to be hunted is lawful.
The case, brought by the Association for Nature Conservation (ANC) Tapiola, aims to annul permits granted by the Finnish Environment Agency that allowed hunters to kill seven wolves – a species normally strictly protected by EU law.
Today’s ruling from the CJEU calls into question whether the evidence the Finnish government put forward to justify capturing and killing these wolves meets the requirements set out in the law.
ClientEarth lawyer Anna Heslop said: “We welcome the decision today from the Court. The ruling has reiterated the strict conditions laid out in EU law and clarifies that only in the most exceptional cases can the protection given to these important animals be overridden.
“We believe that those circumstances are unlikely to apply to hunting in all but extremely rare occasions.”
The EU Habitats Directive requires EU countries to put in place a system of strict protection for a number of species, including wolves. However, under exceptional circumstances, the Directive allows for deviations from this protection, but only if a number of tests are met.
The Finnish government has justified derogating from the Directive by claiming that hunting a limited number of wolves would help to reduce public fear and avoid illegal poaching, which would ultimately lead to better conservation.
Heslop added: “The Court makes it clear that there are serious questions about the reasoning and evidence put forward by the Finnish government.
“The Finnish court will have to think very carefully about whether the strict tests set out by the Court of Justice in this case have been met.
“This ruling should act as a wake-up call to all EU countries. Wolves play a crucial role in keeping our ecosystems healthy. All governments have an obligation to ensure their protection so that they can once again thrive in their natural habitats across Europe.”
The CJEU’s ruling sets an important precedent for not only the protection of wolves, but also other species such as bears and lynx as well as a whole host of vital species like bats, snails and scorpions.
The case will now return to the Supreme Administrative Court of Finland for a final judgment.
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