Why MEPs and Spitzenkandidaten should sign the Vote for Animals pledge


Why MEPs and Spitzenkandidaten should sign the Vote for Animals pledge

25 March 2024
Having lived close to three European borders, between the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium, for most of my life, I consider myself a true European. Others might not feel the same. To a certain extent, this is understandable because European politics has so far failed to address some of the most pressing concerns of its citizens in crucial areas, such as animal welfare.

The upcoming EU elections present an opportunity to re-establish a much-needed connection between our citizens and the EU institutions, which many still perceive as abstract entities, far away from their everyday lives. Despite this, the past five years have seen unprecedented participation of European citizens in the democratic process, as shown by the enormous success of three European Citizens’ Initiatives (ECIs) on animal welfare, recently further confirmed by the results of the 2023 special Eurobarometer. Yet, despite all the promises the closing political term held, there has been no substantive progress on an issue that is so dear to citizens.

I feel proud whenever I remind myself that the EU recognised animals as sentient beings in the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) since 1997. Animal sentience refers to the ability of animals to feel and experience emotions such as joy, pleasure, pain and fear. It is the animals’ capacity to feel both positive and negative states that drives the animal welfare movement. It is also the reason why animal protection laws exist. Such recognition should offer enormous legislative scope to create a Europe that truly recognises and values animals for what they are.  However, EU law continues to treat them as mere commodities, goods, and products. To all effect, EU policies are in stark contradiction to the TFEU as regards the treatment of animals.

This glaring discrepancy between the EU’s highest legislation and the reality on the ground is a political failure as it falls short of the expectations of European citizens. This message resonated loud and clear in the cross-party interventions during the recent European Parliament debate calling on the Commission to fulfil its promises and live up to its commitments on animal welfare. 

Will the candidate MEPs and the Spitzenkandidaten use the elections to genuinely listen to citizens and renew their commitment to improving the animal condition? Undeniably, discontent among farmers has been a significant hurdle to progress in this area. However, the causes of this discontent are rooted in our distorted food system and have little to do with animal welfare rules. 

We must dispel the notion that increased animal welfare measures will make farmers more vulnerable. On the contrary, higher animal welfare standards can prove immensely beneficial for creating new market opportunities in the European Union and driving higher standards globally while responding to societal expectations, as echoed by the recent debate in the European Parliament on this topic.

As the elections approach, we find ourselves at a critical juncture. The conditions of farm animals, animals used in science, traded wildlife, and pets demand immediate attention. While some initial steps were taken during the previous term, they are insufficient to meet European citizens’ expectations, not to mention their inadequacy in light of the most recent scientific evidence. 

For this reason, we created a pledge with ten points, which should guide public policy for the next political term, ensuring that European animal welfare legislation will look significantly different by 2029. 

I am a firm believer in the European project, but I am often questioned by our member organisations and their supporters about my faith in the European institutions. Indeed, these are critical times. It is easy to lose hope when faced with indisputable evidence of a lack of political courage. Yet, the EU can and must rise to its fullest potential and continue building a sustainable and kinder future for all. 

Dear candidates, please consider the transformative impact you could achieve by signing our Vote for Animals pledge. This pledge embodies our collective aspiration for a Europe that respects and values animals as sentient beings. By signing it, you will send a clear message to European citizens confirming the European Commission’s commitment to improving the welfare of all animals and ensuring that the relevant legislation will look much different by 2029. 

Together, we can pave the way for a more compassionate Europe.