AFTER 23 years of procrastination and hair-splitting, the French government has finally agreed to implement a European law which protects wild birds from hunters for much of the year.
But French hunters' groups yesterday threatened to ignore the government's decree and continue shooting wild geese, ducks and other waterfowl when the season closes on Friday, a month earlier than usual.
With presidential elections approaching, it seems certain the controversy will be exploited by extremist pro-hunting groups with connections with the far right. The hunters accuse the Socialist prime minister, Lionel Jospin, of surrendering to his Green allies, even though the EU wild birds directive was first approved by a centre-right French government in 1979.
All EU governments, including France, accepted that the migratory birds belonged to the continent, rather than individual countries and regions, and should be protected during their periods of migration and breeding. France has failed to apply the law until now, despite several European Court rulings against it. There has been violence in wildfowl hunting areas along the French western seaboard. Last year 12 hunters invaded a bird sanctuary in the Loire estuary and killed more than 100 protected and inedible birds. In other incidents, a bird sanctuary headquarters was burnt down, a Socialist MP in the Somme estuary was pelted with stones and a senior official of a bird protection organisation was beaten up.
The Jospin government has been trying to find compromise dates acceptable to Brussels and the hunting groups. …