The rules of the game: will the views of EU citizens make the Commission finally deliver the new animal welfare legislation?

The rules of the game: will the views of EU citizens make the Commission finally deliver the new animal welfare legislation?

23 October 2023
The past few weeks have been among the hardest in my position as the CEO of Eurogroup for Animals but also, in some respects, the most surreal. In the ten years I have proudly spent leading this organisation, I experienced many political hurdles. Together with my team and our member organisations, we went through long years of lobbying and campaigning that were met with political inaction on the part of the European Commission.

After hitting the rubber wall so many times, we were thrilled by the prospect of new and updated animal welfare legislation, which the European Commission promised to deliver in line with the aims of the EU Green Deal and in the wake of our incredibly successful citizens’ mobilisations. It was refreshing for us to finally collect all the science, prepare our concrete asks, and talk about change for billions of kept animals

This week it became clear that, at least for this political term, the European Commission does not intend to deliver all of the promised and much-needed reforms of animal welfare legislation. There are reasons why this is happening and I won’t analyse them in detail here. All I can say is that none of them holds water in a healthy democracy because this backtracking represents a betrayal of the trust millions of European citizens had put in the European Commission to take action for farmed animals

Today, the disconnect between civil society and European politics has become even more evident. For one, the plenary debate at the European Parliament in Strasbourg on the European Citizens' Initiative “Fur Free Europe” demonstrated that there is incredible cross-party parliamentary support for a ban on fur farming. Secondly, the results of the latest special Eurobarometer on animal welfare, only just published, show once again and without a shadow of a doubt that European citizens deeply care for farmed (and domestic) animals and want their policymakers to act.  We know, however, that the pressure from the industrial agriculture lobby is immense and that the stakes are high due to the impending European elections in 2024

We had anticipated that any attempt at passing legislation to reform animal farming would encounter fierce opposition from our opponents. I do not think we were wearing rosy glasses. After engaging for years with all stakeholders in countless meetings and occasions, and with all the scientific and field evidence on our side, we thought there were solid bases on which to build a revised farmed animal welfare legislation. 

But then the pandemic hit, then war, causing international instability and an ongoing economic crisis. The promises of a greener, more sustainable food and farming system and good lives for animals became controversial in light of the events. As elections approach, one must be “realistic”. What was promised to millions does not count anymore when there’s a re-election on the line. These are the rules of the game. 

Now that European citizens have spoken again, loud and clear, directly and through their elected representatives, what will the European Commission do? I believe the European Commission still can (and should) do the decent thing and put forward all the planned legislative proposals on animal welfare. When it does, we will be there to ensure that the new laws really make a difference in the lives of billions of non-human animals.