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EU parliament divided on plans to review wolves' conservation status

The European Parliament, Strasbourg
The European Parliament, Strasbourg Copyright Mathieu CUGNOT/ European Union 2023 - Source : EP
Copyright Mathieu CUGNOT/ European Union 2023 - Source : EP
By Mared Gwyn Jones
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The European Commission's plans to review the conservation status of the wolf in Europe has divided the European Parliament.

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In a debate convened by the European People’s Party (EPP) on Wednesday, right-leaning members of the European Parliament (MEPs) said the review was necessary to protect the livelihood of farmers in highland regions, whose livestock are being decimated by wolf packs.

"Today there are around 20,000 wolves in the European Union and the population is growing," Herbert Dorfmann, the EPP's spokesperson on agriculture in the parliament, said. 

"Attacks of wolves on sheep and cattle have become almost a daily occurrence. We need to recognise the conflict between wolves and local farmers," he added

"We always talk about coexistence. But if two groups coexist in a territory where one is untouchable, and the other forced to suffer, then it’s not coexistence, it’s subordination," Alessandro Panza of the Identity and Democracy group said.

But other MEPs accused EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen of calling wolf on the issue for personal gains, and without a scientific basis. 

In September last year, von der Leyen was personally impacted by the rise in wolf populations when her 30-year-old pony, Dolly, was killed by a male wolf in north-eastern Germany.

"This is an attempt to abuse power on the part of President von der Leyen," Anja Hazekamp from the Left group said.

Thomas Waitz of the Greens added: "This is a false debate and we are spreading panic. Wolves do not eat grandmas or children and we should find a proper solution to the issue".

Von der Leyen announced her executive would launch a review of the species' protection status last week, describing the wolf as a "real threat" to livestock and human safety. 

She also urged local and national authorities to take advantage of derogations to EU laws to allow farmers to take targeted measures to protect their crops and livelihoods, such as using "soft-catch" traps for wolves.

The resurgence in wolf packs across Europe has sparked tensions among farming communities and has become the latest issue to put environmentalists and farmers at loggerheads. 

In a sign of their increasing political capital, farmers featured prominently in von der Leyen's hour-long State of the Union speech earlier on Wednesday, as she called for "more dialogue and less polarisation."

NGOs including the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) have expressed concerns about the Commission’s “misleading information” on the danger of the wolf, assuring that its return to Europe is a win for biodiversity.

“Scientific evidence has shown that wolves do not treat humans as prey, and fatal encounters are exceptional,” the NGOs say in an open letter to von der Leyen. “Damage to livestock is often linked to the lack of adequate supervision and/or physical protection.”

A European Parliament resolution in November last year called on the Commission to support the agriculture sector by ensuring more flexibility when protecting their livestock from attacks.

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