20. Februar 2024 | NEWSFLASH Umweltrecht

English Summary

CJEU Advocate General on Tyrolean Wolf case and the Habitats directive

The European Court of Justice (CJEU) is set to rule on the protection of wolves in Austria, with the Advocate General delivering a strong opinion in favor of stricter measures. This opinion, often followed by the ECJ, carries significant implications for wolf conservation across the EU. The Advocate General rejected claims that Austria is unfairly treated by the Habitats Directive, which mandates strict wolf protection. The assessment of a wolf's conservation status must happen at the national level, not across the entire EU or even considering a good status in neighbouring states. This means Austria cannot justify relaxed protection based on the wolf's good conservation status in other countries.

The definition of "serious damage" under the Directive was also clarified. It encompasses both actual and imminent harm to protected goods, but not indirect or broader economic impacts. So, Austria cannot use potential economic losses to the alpine farming industry as a whole to justify for culling wolves. While economic factors can be considered when exploring alternative measures to lethal control, they must be weighed within the specific case and the EU's commitment to wolf protection. This means simply finding a cheaper option isn't enough; it must also effectively contribute to wolf conservation. The Advocate General's opinion sends a clear message to Austria and other member states: stricter wolf protection is non-negotiable. While the final CJEU judgment is still pending, this opinion sets a strong precedent for prioritizing wolf conservation efforts across the EU.

Austrian Constitutional Court judges 17-year transitional period for full-slatted pens to be too long

An amendment to the Animal Welfare Act in 2022 introduced a ban on unstructured full-slatted pens for weaned piglets, breeding pigs and fattening pigs. A transitional period of 17 years was set for the validity of this ban for facilities already in existence before 1 September 2022. The provincial government of Burgenland has challenged the 17-year transitional period for the ban on unstructured full-slatted pens in the Animal Welfare Act (TSchG) before the Constitutional Court. In its ruling G 193/2023, the Constitutional Court classified this period as unconstitutional, as it does not take animal welfare adequately into account and leads to unequal treatment. By introducing the ban on unstructured full-slatted pens, the legislator has made a value assessment regarding the objective of animal welfare. This assessment means that it is not objectively justified to unilaterally focus on investment protection by setting a 17-year transitional period and not adequately take animal welfare into account when weighing up the options. If the legislator does not act, the transitional provisions will expire on 1 January 2025. From then on, the ban on unstructured full-slatted pens would apply to all facilities without a transitional period.  

Media reports now indicate that the transition period may be shortened to 2030. Shortening the transition period is an important step towards reducing animal suffering. However, a further increase in the amount of space available, as well as an obligation to provide enclosed and bedded lying areas, would be of great importance from an animal welfare perspective.