The animal rights movement found its political voice in Europe some 20 years ago. Today, among the many political movements and parties that have emerged in the European Union and that are strongly committed to promoting animal welfare issues, there is the Party for the Animals (Partij voor de Dieren; PvdD) in the Netherlands.

Formed in 2002, it has celebrated electoral victories in both national and European elections. At home, the party won five seats in the House of the Representatives and two in the Senate in the last elections. In Brussels, the party has one seat at the European Parliament.

This month, the European Parliament will vote on a proposal related to the transport of live animals. This is a rather crucial issue since there are many reports of animals being transported, both in and out of the EU, in ways that violate animal welfare principles.

In an interview with European Interest, PvdD’s Anja Hazekamp, who is a member of the European Parliament’s GUE/NGL Group, describes the current situation which led to the proposal.

She notes that the gaps of the EU legislation, as well as the exceptions granted to the single member states, have deteriorated the situation in many fields especially related to livestock and fish farming.

Hazekamp also outlines the basic difference between the Green parties and the parties for the animal welfare. She expects a stronger representation of the pro-animal parties in the next European Parliament.

European Interest: This month, the European Parliament will vote on the Transport of Live Animals. What do you expect from this vote? Do you feel the issue will draw cross-party support?

Anja Hazekamp: Every year, 4 million cows, 31 million pigs, 5 million sheep, 150,000 horses and 1.4 billion chickens, ducks and turkeys are being transported over long distances across Europe and far beyond.

These animals are being transported for days, sometimes even for weeks. It has been 15 years since the current EU-rules for the protection of animals during transport were introduced. Still animals are facing maltreatment, extreme temperatures and lack of access to feed and water. In many cases animals are being transported in overloaded trucks, without sufficient headspace. All this is resulting in massive animal suffering.

Last summer, while visiting the ports of Rasa (Croatia) and Koper (Slovenia) to inspect animal transports, I witnessed the most horrifying situations myself. Animals were suffering from heat stress at temperatures up to 40 degrees and they were treated abusively. But authorities failed to enforce the European animal welfare rules appropriately. NGOs have been reporting similar situations for years now, in different countries at different times. This all proves that these misconducts are no incidents, but a structural problem.

Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that a majority of the European Parliament will support the proposals to shorten the maximum transport time, to improve the enforcement of EU animal welfare legislation and to end the export of live animals to third countries.

while visiting the ports of Rasa (Croatia) and Koper (Slovenia) to inspect animal transports, I witnessed the most horrifying situations myself. Animals were suffering from heat stress at temperatures up to 40 degrees and they were treated abusively

For the conservative EPP group, which is the largest group in the European Parliament, animal welfare is a minor issue. They will probably vote against the report. On the other hand, a lot of MEPs agree that the current situation is unacceptable. It will be a close call, but I am confident that we can get a majority to end these horrendous transports.

It is known that once the animals have crossed the border, European regulations on animal transport are systematically ignored. Will February’s vote address this issue? Does the EU have the instruments it needs to impose its regulations in third countries?

Inspections, carried out by NGOs, clearly show that the way animals are treated only gets worse once they have passed the EU-borders. Enforcement of EU animal welfare laws is totally absent in third countries.

The European Court of Justice has ruled, that the obligation to protect animals does not stop at the outer borders of the EU.  But the EU and its Member States have no instruments to enforce EU animal welfare rules in third countries. This means that animal transports from the EU to third countries are in breach with the Court Ruling, and therefore illegal. The report is addressing this issue, including the option of a ban, but leaves open a possibility to continue live exports. In my opinion exports of live animals should be stopped right away and I will therefore table an alternative proposal to introduce an immediate ban.

On January 7, you were among many MEPs that questioned the European Commission on fish welfare during transport. In fact, although according to a European Commission study the situation of fish in many EU member countries has deteriorated, there is no reply from the Commission to the questions posed by the Parliament. Why do you think the Commission is dragging its feet? 

According to the Lisbon Treaty, the EU should pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals, also when it comes to fisheries policies.  But the European Commission is not acting consistently when it comes to fish welfare. On one hand, it recognises that fishes are sentient beings, able to experience pain. But on the other hand the Commission does not take any real action to improve fish welfare.  The Commission also makes a distinction between farmed fish and fish in the wild. In my view it is unacceptable that the EU ignores the welfare of fish only to secure the profitability of the fishing industry.

The European Court of Justice has ruled, that the obligation to protect animals does not stop at the outer borders of the EU.  But the EU and its Member States have no instruments to enforce EU animal welfare rules in third countries

The same applies to slaughter of fish. The European Commission should have come up with legislation by January 2015. I urged the commission at several occasions to act upon fish welfare, but we are still waiting for legislation as well.

The problems related to animal cruelty cover a vast list of topics from farm animals to the mistreatment of pets up to the hunting of wild animals and birds or the use of animals in tourism. But a report published by the European Court of Auditors in November 2018, highlighted the failure of EU Member States to properly implement EU animal welfare legislation. Why?

The EU Member States are responsible themselves for enforcing EU animal welfare legislation. The European Commission can intervene if Member States fail to enforce EU animal welfare rules, but it rarely does so. Member States know that usually there will be no penalties if they fail to safeguard animal welfare. That’s why some Member States chose to let other interests prevail over the welfare of animals.

Another problem is the huge amount of exceptions formulated in EU law, under which Member States can derogate from general animal welfare requirements. Such derogations are often misused.

On January 16, during the European Parliament’s Plenary session, MEPs adopted the report put forward by the “Special committee on the European Union’s authorisation procedure for pesticides”. Are you satisfied with this?

Each year, about 400,000 tonnes of pesticides are sold and used within the EU. Such an extreme amount is utterly horrendous. As is the fact that many of these pesticides have not been evaluated thoroughly for their safety. The current overuse of pesticides is causing a threat to our food safety, to our health, that of animals and to the environment.

The report of the PEST-committee asks for public access to all studies that are used during the authorisation procedure for pesticides.

The report also calls for funding to be made available for independent research and research into alternatives to pesticides, including non-chemical methods.

A recommendation highly advocated and welcomed by the Party for the Animals is the call for application of non-animal tests and technologies in the testing of active substances.

The recommendations of the PEST-committee to increase the independence and transparency of EU’s pesticide approvals, are an important step towards achieving a cleaner environment for us and future generations.

Pro-animal parties are currently active in many EU member states. But most people still confuse their activities with that of the Green parties. What really divides you from the Greens? As regards the upcoming European elections, will the pro-animal parties in EU member states form a pan-European list or a pan-European party? What will be the main campaign slogans for your party in the Netherlands?

All other parties, including the Greens, focus on the wellbeing of humans mainly. Our movement has a fundamental principle to protect the interests of the weakest against the right of the strongest. Serving the interests of both humans and animals. In practice, our Party for the Animals focusses much more on animal welfare issues than Green parties, but we also have a more holistic vision. We want to end the culture of compromises. We do not have time for small steps, we need to make huge steps if we want to really change the system. When it comes to fighting climate change and the preservation of our planet for future generations, we don’t maintain taboos like most ‘old fashioned’ green parties. We believe that a change of our current consumption patterns is necessary. Infinite growth, even green growth, is an illusion. Growth on a planet with finite resources is simply impossible.

Probably 10 Parties for Animals from across the EU will run in the European elections. Hopefully, our movement will become even stronger in the European Parliament. But I would like to quote Margaret Mead who said: Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.