Ombudsman complaint: the EC has failed to deliver on the animal welfare ECI

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Ombudsman complaint: the EC has failed to deliver on the animal welfare ECI

23 November 2023
Press Release
For the very first time, more than 30 animal protection organisations made an official complaint to the European Ombudsman against the European Commission’s failure to uphold its commitment to a European Citizens’ Initiative in which 1.4 million citizens asked for a ban on cages.

In its answer to the End the Cage Age European Citizens Initiative (ECI), published in June 2021, the European Commission (EC) promised that by the end of 2023, it would put forward a legislative proposal to phase out and finally prohibit the use of cages for the listed animal species. Yet, in the recent work programme for the rest of the political term, the Kept Animals Regulation, which should have included the plan, was missing.. This means that this Regulation will now be left to the fate of the next Commission, creating heavy uncertainty on when the promised Regulation will be published.

In their complaint to the Ombudsman, the organisations said that the EC has failed to act in accordance with the rules governing the European Citizens’ Initiatives after generating legitimate expectations among European citizens. These shortcomings present a case of maladministration, both in light of Regulation(EU) 2019/788 and the very raison d’être of European Citizens’ Initiatives as an instrument of transnational democracy.

Prior to backtracking from its promise, the EC repeatedly confirmed that it was working towards the 2023 timeline, with multiple mentions of this date being made publicly by Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Stella Kyriakides, in the EC’s answers to parliamentary questions, at the EU Platform on Animal Welfare, and in various communications on the Farm to Fork Strategy.

Before making the official complaint to the Ombudsman, the organisations formally asked the Commission to come forward with a definite timeline for the publication of the legislative proposals within the current term, to fulfil its obligation to the ECI End the Cage Age. Yet, the EC has failed to provide an exhaustive reply to this request.

In addition to the cages ECI, 1.5 million citizens also asked for a ban on fur farming and the placement of fur products on the European market. The reply would also have been included in the Kept Animals Regulations, as transpired in the leaked Impact Assessment. In the latest Eurobarometer an overwhelming majority of European Citizens clearly said they want the EU to do more to protect animals.

A delay in the release of updated animal welfare legislation will also cost European farmers and food businesses, as this is a time where they need to reinvest in farming systems, and, unless they get a clear indication, they might invest in systems that are not future-proof.  While the regulation to phase out cages continues to be pending, 700 million farm animals continue to suffer in cages in Europe each year.

The EC made clear expectations to citizens, but in the moment of truth, has let them down. This calls into question a core value of EU Institutions: democracy. The ECI was purposely launched to allow citizens to actively participate in policy-making processes. But what good does that do if their voices continue to be unheard?

Reineke Hameleers, CEO, Eurogroup for Animals