I. The principle of strict protection of wolf species

The protection of animal and plant species has its origins in the Habitats Directive (1992/147/EC) and the Birds Directive (2009/147/EC). The main aim of these directives is to maintain or restore the European Union's biodiversity through the conservation of natural habitats for wild flora and fauna. This is clear from Article 12 of the Habitats Directive, which states that "1. Member States shall take the necessary measures to establish a system of strict protection for the animal species listed in Annex IV (a), in their natural range, prohibiting:

a) any form of deliberate capture or killing of specimens of these species in the wild; b) the deliberate disturbance of these species, during the period of reproduction, dependence, hibernation, and migration; c) the deliberate destruction or collection of eggs in the wild; d) the deterioration or destruction of breeding sites or resting places. 2 For these species, Member States shall prohibit the possession, transport, trade, or exchange and offer for sale or exchange of specimens taken from the wild, except for those taken legally before the implementation of this Directive. 3. The prohibitions referred to in paragraph 1 (a) and (b) and in paragraph 2 shall apply to all life stages of the animals covered by this article...".

Among the protected species enjoying strict protection is the wolf. The wolf is protected by the Bern Convention on the conservation of European wildlife and the Habitats Directive. The increase in wolf numbers in certain regions of the EU is causing conflict with local communities, particularly farmers and hunters. The European Commission has therefore launched a consultation to update its database on the presence of wolves and is considering modifying its protection status in the light of the results.

II. Derogation from the principle of strict protection

There is a derogation to the principle of strict protection of species. This may be granted to "prevent significant damage, in particular to crops, livestock, forests, fisheries, water and other forms of property" (L. 411-2, 4° b of the Environment Code). However, two conditions must be met for a derogation to be granted: the absence of other satisfactory solutions; and the absence of harm to the "maintenance, in a favorable conservation status, of the populations of the species concerned in their natural range".

Two decrees were issued by the French government on October 23, 2020, to regulate derogations from wolf protection. The first decree sets out the conditions and limits under which derogations to bans on the destruction of wolves can be granted by prefects, with a view to protecting domestic flocks, to prevent significant damage occurring there. In particular, it covers : setting and ensuring compliance with the maximum number of wolf specimens whose destruction may be authorized; the general framework for intervention (determination of beneficiaries of the wolf protection derogation, etc.), and the conditions and procedures for implementing scaring operations, wolf destruction operations by shooting (to defend flocks, or to remove a wolf specimen, etc.), and the conditions and procedures for implementing scaring operations, and operations to destroy a wolf by shooting (to defend herds, or to remove a wolf specimen).

Among other things, it includes provisions for certain wolf colonization fronts. The second decree sets the maximum number of wolf (Canis lupus) specimens that may be destroyed each year. According to article 1 of this decree, "the maximum number of wolf specimens (male or female, young or adult) whose destruction is authorized, in application of all the derogations that may be granted by the prefects, is set at 19% of the average wolf population estimated annually.

III. The EU Commission's intention to review the wolf's protection status

In a press release issued on Monday, September 4, 2023, the European Commission declared that it was launching "a new phase in its work to address the challenges associated with the return of wolves", and "today invites local communities, scientists and all interested parties to submit, by September 22, 2023, updated data on wolf populations and their impacts". According to Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, the concentration of wolf packs in certain regions of Europe has become a real danger for livestock and, potentially, for humans. As a result, the wolf's protection status needs to be downgraded, to introduce "greater flexibility, in light of the evolution of this species".

This decision would be in response to repeated requests from agricultural organizations, notably Copa-Cogeca, which have denounced conflicts such as attacks on livestock. It is also a decision that follows on from the position of the European Parliament. On November 24, 2022, most MEPs passed a resolution on the protection of livestock farms and large carnivores. In their view, the wolf's pan-European conservation status justifies a reduction in its protection status.

Brussels reports that it has been gathering data from expert groups, stakeholders, and national authorities since April 2023. Nevertheless, the European executive points out that population inventory data are still insufficient to reach a decision. Therefore it is launching a consultation until September 22, 2023, via a special e-mail address, with local authorities, scientists and all interested parties with a view to enriching these data. NGOs are opposed to this downgrading of animal protection, arguing that protection measures should not be reversed, but rather that wolves should be allowed to cohabit with livestock.