The BBB team was in Brussels last week for meetings with the European Commission and Eurogroup for Animals. It was the first time in the ‘capital of Europe’ and the main aim of our visit was to make contact with EU officials, MEPs, stakeholders and learn more about how the institutions work. There was also one subject we were keen to shed some light on: subsidies to the bullfighting industry.
European Commission in Brussels
If you are pressed for time, I can give you a one sentence summary. We did get a lot of good contacts and have a much better understanding of how the system works, but got more confused with regard to the subsidies.
First we went to the Directorate General Health and Consumers or short DG SANCO, where we met the Animal Welfare Unit.
Although the Unit coordinates the EU’s animal welfare policy, responsibility lies with the mighty agriculture department DG AGRI. Agriculture and with it billions of Euros of subsidies have always been the EU’s major issue and, with roughly 50%, top budget item.
After this very useful introduction to the Unit’s work we talked about the subsidies issue. It was not surprising to hear that they have no information that fighting bull breeders receive any subsidies.
No information about subsidies? Try harder to get them.
But you ask yourself, how hard did they try to get the information? EU bodies have to rely on official information, sure, but you would have expected some more insight, some off the record talk. The subsidies end up in the hands of people who make money from maiming and killing bulls. There have been plenty of credible media reports, here, here and here. Even MEPs have openly spoken about the issue.
They question is how do you find out how much money is paid and who receives it. Naturally, we did not expect to come back with straight forward answers to these complicated questions. But you would have hoped that the Animal Welfare Unit at the European Commission gives you an idea, shares some knowledge of their work with regard to subsides.
Unfortunately they did not. They did suggest, however, to meet their colleagues from DG AGRI and a number of MEPs on the Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development. That was useful, but the general sense we got from the meeting was that they did not acknowledge the problem of citizens’ money being paid to support a gruesome spectacle and insisted that there was no specific measure aiming directly at supporting bullfighting.
You can maim and kill bulls if it has been tradition
The details of the legal backing for bullfighting in general and its subsidies in particular, are complicated, but all go back to the Lisbon Treaty. Article 13 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) recognises animals as sentient beings and “pay[s] full regard to the welfare requirements of animals”, but then, at least for bullfighting, makes this protection null and void by adding that law and custom of the member states “relating in particular to religious rites, cultural traditions and regional heritage” have to be respected first.
The Commission made it clear that it considers bullfighting to be cultural tradition in Andalusia and elsewhere, and given the recent upgrade bullfighting received from the Zapatero Government this status seems cemented.
Meeting friends at the Eurogroup for Animals
For the next meeting we went to the offices of the Eurogroup for Animals. Set up in 1983 by the RSPCA and others, it now acts as a secretariat for a group of MEPs with an interest in animal welfare, the Intergroup. They mainly work on the big issues such as factory farming, international animal trade and consumer interests. So we wanted to highlight the problem of bullfighting and hear about the Eurogroup’s lobbying secrets.
Our work was warmly welcomed and we got some good advice as to who of the MEPs to meet and what to press them for. A number of MEPs have a genuine interest in animal welfare and we will now contact them and arrange meetings to discuss a way forward in the subsidies issue.
Overall a successful and very interesting day in Brussels. We did not get a lot of answers, indeed more questions, with regard to subsidies for bull breeders. A good result for the first lobbying day. Rest assured, we will be back to find answers to all those questions