Tuesday

22nd Oct 2019

Opinion

Elephants are a 'big thing' too, Mr Juncker!

  • 'Don't forget me, Mr Juncker!' - an African elephant raises its trunk in warning (Photo: Wikimedia)

Last week, the European Commission released its progress report on wildlife trafficking.

Few people will need convincing that there's a lot of progress still to make.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

The World Wildlife Fund recently estimated that the population of wild animals has decreased by 60 percent since 1970.

Ahead of this week's Biodiversity Summit in Egypt, the UN warned that hundreds of species further face extinction if drastic action isn't immediately forthcoming.

Seems like hardly a day goes by without some dramatic announcement.

Trafficking is only a part of the problem. Most depends on the preservation of natural ecosystems, now threatened by climate change, unsustainable economic development, inadequate planning and legal protection on the spot. But it is a crucial one, and one where the EU can make all the difference.

As the largest market in the world, Europe is also one of the world's main hubs for illicit wildlife trade and commodities such as medicinal products, exotic pets and live reptiles, corals or ivory.

If there is a demand for illegal goods anywhere in the world, they will sooner or later pass through our borders.

If we don't control our external borders together and coordinate our internal actions, they will pass through unnoticed and unpunished.

So this is exactly what we've been doing in recent years.

The report shows a lot of progress made in devising national action plans, aligning practices and procedures across borders, exchanging information between national authorities like customs and police services, and in mobilising businesses and civil society organisations.

In 2016 alone, there were 2,268 significant seizures of wildlife commodities in the EU, two thirds of which at external borders, mostly at airports. The European Union is tackling this head-on, as one and, for such an intricate problem, pretty effectively.

Internationally, efforts like the 'EU TWIX' information exchange tool - which has led to several cross-border investigations within Europe - are being noticed and copied. And with some €340m in EU development and cooperation funding over the past two years, we are targeting the source of the problem as well.

This is an EU success story.

And yet, for some reason, the commission itself seems less than convinced.

One of the key issues in tackling wildlife trafficking is the continuing trade in ivory and rhino horn.

Internationally, we see domestic ivory market closures in the United States, China and Hong Kong, and a coalition of more than 30 African nations is putting pressure on the EU to close its market to ivory products as well.

The need to do more against the ivory trade was one of the salient points to come out of the commission's own public consultation, with current efforts widely perceived as insufficient to halt illegal sales within and through the EU.

The European Parliament itself has called upon the commission to explore a ban on ivory and rhino horn two years ago, as it becomes increasingly clear that the legal domestic market for ivory contributes to poaching and illegal trading as well.

Legal loopholes and patchy implementation

Despite earlier indications, the commission now stops short of proposing a clear EU-level closure of the domestic ivory trade, opting for clearly unsatisfactory non-binding guidance instead, which leaves a lot of legal loopholes and patchy implementation.

There is nothing in the process, the public consultation or the substance of the issue underpinning this decision, which remains unexplained and indeed seems rather inexplicable a strategy.

With parliament and member states both explicitly demanding action, a rare alliance has formed. If ever there was a popular, immediately effective and easy piece of regulation, it is this.

So who at the Berlaymont who is blocking a legal proposal?

Surely a commission that promised to be "big on big things and small on small things" doesn't need reminding: elephants are a big thing too!

Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy is a Dutch MEP for D66/ALDE

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Europe's last wild rivers under threat at Balkans summit

The EU is prioritising motorways and gas pipelines across the potential accession Western Balkan countries, plus hydropower energy projects which threaten one of the world's freshwater biodiversity hotspots.

Stakeholder

Help consumers take cruelty away from EU's Xmas buffet

Will commissioners Phil Hogan and Vytenis Andriukaitis help consumers take cruelty away from the EU's Christmas buffet? Some 80 MEPs have asked the EU commission to delete the requirement of minimum liver weights for foie gras

Europe's empty fortress

It is too easy only to criticise the rightists and their fixation with barbed wire, Trump for his wall on the border with Mexico, Orban for his xenophobia.

News in Brief

  1. MEPs criticise Juncker over climate and tax policies
  2. Juncker defends commission record on Greek crisis
  3. Croatian MEP criticises EU parliament for trusting Šuica
  4. Brexit is waste of time and energy, says Juncker
  5. Abortion and same-sex marriage become legal in Northern Ireland
  6. Germany wants internationally controlled zone in Syria
  7. EU parliament refuses to debate Catalonia
  8. Four businessmen charged in Slovak journalist murder

Defending the defenders: ombudsmen need support

Ombudsmen are often coming under attack or facing different kinds of challenges. These can include threats, legal action, reprisals, budget cuts or a limitation of their mandate.

Column

The benefits of being unpopular

Paradoxically, the lack of popularity may be part of the strength of the European project. Citizens may not be super-enthusiastic about the EU, but when emotions run too high in politics, hotheads may take over.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture
  3. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  4. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  5. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  7. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  11. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work

Latest News

  1. EU open to imminent Brexit extension, Tusk indicates
  2. EU centrists ally with far right on migrant rescues
  3. MPs vote on Johnson's latest push for Brexit deal
  4. Macron breaks Balkans promise in quest for EU dominance
  5. Snap elections in North Macedonia after EU rejection
  6. UK opposition MPs attack new Brexit deal
  7. Deep divisions on display over post-Brexit EU budget
  8. Juncker: 'Historic mistake' against Balkan EU hopefuls

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  2. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  3. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  4. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  9. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  10. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us