EU awards partial victory to Finland over wolf hunting case

Sunday, June 17, 2007

On June 14 the European Court of Justice awarded a partial victory to Finland in a case in which the European Commission alleged that Finland was issuing licenses to hunt wolves in a manner contradictory to rules laid down by the Commission, partly dismissing the commission's case. The case was initially filed in 2005. Crucially, Finland's wolf management plan will not be changed as a result of the decision.

The court said that the commission had not proved that Finland was issuing the licenses in a manner that threatened the survival of the country's wolf population, estimated at around 250, and Finland themselves claim the number of Finnish wolves has recently doubled.

The court ruled that despite two cases where Finland was found to be in the wrong, this did not amount to "constant and general administrative practice amounting to a breach." Finland had issued the licenses on a preventative basis, but EU regulations state that there must be proof of damage or other danger which can only be solved by killing the animal(s) involved, and thus Finland was breaching the Habitats Directive.

The court ruled that both sides should pay their own legal costs as both had failed in at least one of their claims.

"The European Court of Justice ratifies the main lines of the wolf population management plan," the Finnish agriculture ministry said. "When planning future wolf policy in Finland, the ministry will take note of the court of justices decision on the wolf and the grounds for it".

However, the ministry also said that it would still issue permits to prevent "very significant loss or damage" providing a survey no more than a year old showed that hunting could actually prevent this loss or damage.

"The crucial point of the decision is that the current system, based on hunting permits granted by the game management districts, is not contrary to the habitats directive," the ministry said in a statement.

"The game management districts can continue to grant permits to hunt wolf within the limits laid down by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry."