Is culture genuinely at the heart of EU international relations?

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

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On the Maltese islands the custom of live-finch capturing and the keeping of any caught finch is a deeply rooted socio-cultural tradition. [Pixabay]

The EU is committed to promoting cultural heritage but its actions against Malta risk wiping out a deeply-rooted and important cultural practice, argues Lino Farrugia.

Mr. Lino Farrugia is the CEO of the FKNK (the Maltese Federation for Hunting and Conservation).

The EU is committed to promoting culture in its international relations, and particularly the diversity of culture in the EU, in line with the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU.

The 2005 UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions is the main legislation in this area and the EU is a party to it.

Promoting culture as a vital element in EU international relations has been one of the three main objectives of the European Agenda for Culture since 2007.

On 8 June 2016, the Commission adopted a new strategy to put culture at the heart of EU international relations.

On the Maltese islands the centuries-old custom of live-finch capturing, colloquially referred to as trapping, and the keeping of any caught finch, is a deeply rooted socio-cultural tradition which is passionately practiced by thousands of Maltese trappers and constitutes their very way of life.  Trapping “…is the semantic equivalent of the hunting ‘pathos’ of the Mediterranean island of Zakynthos[1], the ‘passione’ of Italian hunters, the ‘Jagdfieber’ of German-speaking countries, and the ‘bug’ that afflicts hunters in the US.”[2]

In fact, derogations from the Birds Directive in order to permit the live capture of wild birds have been applied by other EU member states besides Malta – Finland, France, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain[3]. And in Austria, where the same species of finches as the ones caught in Malta are trapped by similar methods used by Maltese trappers, the practice of live-finch trapping has been classified as an Intangible Cultural Heritage under UNESCO.

At present, the Maltese trappers await the fate of their life-time cultural passion, from the verdict of the European Court of Justice (ECJ), in the Case which the EU Commission filed against Malta to abolish live-finch capturing.

2018 marks the European Year of Cultural Heritage, and Malta’s capital city of Valletta will be the European Capital of Culture.

Since, it is logical, that the Commission will ‘use’ the ECJ Malta verdict with the other member states where live-bird capturing is practiced, might therefore, the Commission thus eradicate this culture by 2018? Is this the EU’s genuine objective commitment to protect and promote the vital element of cultural diversity at the heart of its international relations, particularly in the EU?

[1] Theodossopoulos, D. (2003) Troubles with Turtles: Cultural Understandings of the Environment on a Greek Island.  Berghahn Series (15): Berghahn Books.

[2] Falzon, M. A. (2007) A Passion for Birds: Historical, ecological and social aspects of hunting in Malta and the Mediterranean.  University of Malta: Malta.

[3] EU Commission Website (2007) Composite European Commission Report on Derogations according to article 9 of Directive 79/409/EEC on the Conservation of Wild Birds 2005 – 2006.

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