Pressure grows on EU to tackle wildlife crime

MEPs are calling on the European commission to get tough on the illegal wildlife trade.

By Rajnish Singh

Rajnish Singh is Commissioning Editor at the Parliament Magazine

26 Feb 2014

Last week, at the start of major conference in London, UK foreign secretary William Hague announced, "We all know that we are at the eleventh hour, perhaps even at a quarter to midnight, in the race to prevent the illegal wildlife trade from obliterating some of the most remarkable species in the world." The summit, which involved several heads of states and representatives from more than 40 countries, discussed how to eradicate the demand from illegally hunted wildlife products. 

With species such as tigers, elephants and rhino's facing extinction due to intensive poaching, countries including Botswana, Chad, China, Gabon, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Tanzania, and Vietnam, alongside the United States and Russia, signed up to the so-called London declaration which contains commitments for practical steps to end the illegal trade in rhino horn, tiger parts and elephant tusks, that according to the UK government, fuels criminal activity worth more than €13bn. 

There is now pressure on the European commission to also introduce EU wide measures to tackle the trade in illegally hunted animals. 

Following a resolution passed by MEPs in January, ALDE co-rapporteur Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy told the Parliament Magazine that, "[pullquote]The EU is full of loopholes for criminals to trade. Unfortunately a lot of wildlife products are trafficked to and through Europe[/pullquote]. Member states need to urgently increase their expertise and capacity. The UK is currently setting the example."

Stressing the serious threat of extinction from poaching and illegal trading, the Dutch MEP highlighted that in 2009, around 100 rhinos were killed. However, in 2010 this figure tripled to 300 and last year over a 1000 rhinos were killed by poachers. "Now 30,000 to 40,000 thousand elephants are slaughtered, that's 10 per cent of the total population. Continuing at this pace of slaughter wild elephants and rhinos will be extinct within 15 years," warned Gerbrandy.

EPP group rapporteur on the resolution, Romana Jordan said she "wanted to see a growing ambition from the European commission to persuade member states towards more coherent legislation." She stressed that sanctions concerning wildlife crimes should be the same across member states. "We don't want to face a situation where one country or a small group of countries with low penalties represent an opportunity for traders in illegal wildlife goods."

She also wants to see greater cooperation at an international level, "The EU must continue its activities with the UN… while more can be done via development assistance. The EU is the biggest global development donor and cannot miss this opportunity to use this instrument for capacity building and raising awareness." 

Anna Rosbach, ECR group co-rapporteur also wants to see the introduction of tougher penalties. "We need drastic steps to stop these illegal practices. These are serious crimes which require serious penalties." She further added, "Tougher penalties and better protection is the way forward. In Europe, in particular, we have a greater responsibility to eliminate the demand. That is why it is so important to prevent wildlife crime." 

S&D co-rapporteur Pavel Poc wants the commission to tackle the issue of trophy hunting. He hopes the "European commission will propose a revision of the provisions for the imports of animal trophies to the EU. Trophy hunting of some endangered species is now unsustainable and current documentation requirements under EU law for the import of hunting trophies may be insufficient to prevent illegal wildlife trade." The Czech MEP was critical of such hunting programmes: "The belief that well-managed hunting programmes can benefit conservation of some critically endangered species such as the rhino has turned out to be false. Where will it end when we don't stand up to trophy hunters now?"

Conservation NGOs welcomed the parliament's resolution and also called on the European commission to introduce further measures. John Calvelli of the Wildlife conservation society stated, "We congratulate the parliament for taking this step, but now hopes that the European commission and EU member states will take appropriate action to make a moratorium on all ivory sales in Europe a reality." He went on to add, "We would like to see this resolution serve as an impetus for similar action in the US congress." 

Tony Long of WWF's European policy office said, "We also expect the European commission to follow the parliament's resolution in their upcoming communication on illegal trade." While Joanne Swabe of Humane society international wanted to see the issue of wildlife trafficking to be incorporated as a part of the EU-US transatlantic trade agreement. 

"We are working to ensure this free trade agreement requires the EU and the US make a strong contribution to wildlife protection… by fulfilling their duties under multilateral environment agreements such as Cites," said Swabe.

Reacting to the growing pressure to deal with the illegal wildlife trade the European commission on 7 February, adopted a new communication and launched a stakeholder consultation on how the EU can deal with wildlife trafficking. 

Based on the results of an online consultation and the outcome of a major upcoming expert's conference on 10 April the commission will review existing policies and measures at an EU level to enable Europe to deal more effectively with the current crisis in wildlife crime. 

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