Executive Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič presented an ambitious agenda but deprioritized animal welfare when he was questioned by the European Parliament on Tuesday after the European Commission had nominated him in charge of the European Green Deal.
Sefcovic, a Slovak diplomat and politician with a long record in the Commission, is currently in charge of Interinstitutional Relations and Foresight in the Commission. He was assigned the role of Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal following former Vice-President Frans Timmermans’ decision to resign and run as a candidate in the Dutch general elections in November.
The European Green Deal focuses on fighting climate change and is a package of policy initiatives, which aims to set the EU on the path to a green transition, with the ultimate goal of reaching climate neutrality by 2050. One of the initiatives is the Farm to Fork Strategy which includes a revision of EU’s animal welfare legislation.
In his introductory speech to the Parliament’s Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (and associated committees), Sefcovic underlined the need to finalize the work on the European Green Deal during the remaining mandate period of the current Commission while at the same time ensuring the proper implementation of already-agreed measures.
He underlined that his main task is to bring all pending Green Deal proposals to the “finishing line” together with the Parliament and the Council. In doing this he said that he wants to focus on the support of citizens for the European Green Deal. In particular it is important to “strengthen dialogue with stakeholders from agriculture and forestry, who are essential partners in the green transition”.
But not all legislative files that the Commission has been working on will be ready in time, he said, referring to among others animal welfare. “Together with my team of Green Deal Commissioners, we will seek to further work on these files.” Sefcovic also mentioned a number of new proposals, including the 2040 climate target in early 2024.
He described this as perhaps the most important upcoming file. The Commission will look at the projected impacts of scenarios covering a full range of pathways from 2030 to 2050 and 2040 targets. “On this basis, we will defend a minimum target of at least 90% net reduction by 2040.”
Some MEPs were skeptical to that all outstanding climate action files would be concluded in the coming months. “In your written answers to Parliament, you weren’t very exact about what you are going to do with all the legislative proposals,” said MEP Nils Torvalds (Renew). “We know that they are somewhere there in the drawers of the Commission.”
Animal welfare file not ready
MEP Tilly Metz (Verts/ALE) questioned Sefcovic about his intentions regarding the promised revision of the EU animal welfare legislation. “In your written replies, you also state that the Commission has been making the lives of animals better for over 40 years. That might be true, but the last legislative revision happened 15 years ago.”
Sefcovic assured that he was aware of that all opinion polls show that “more than 80% of the people in Europe wants to see that we treat animals and nature better”. He blamed the stalemate in the revision of animal welfare legislation on the complexity of the file.
Even a special Eurobarometer on animal welfare which was supposed to have been published in August is not ready. A Commission spokesperson told The Brussels Times that work on the Eurobarometer is on-going but that there is no date for when it will be published.
“We are working with a group of Commissioners on this very complex file,” Sefcovic said. “It has a lot of subdivisions, a lot of aspects: transport, animals treated in cages, slaughterhouses and all these issues which we are currently impact-assessing, looking what we can achieve, what kind of transition periods there should be, what would be the cost associated with that.”
“I think that to be serious and honest, we have to complete the work on this very comprehensive and complex file,” he added. “And once the work is done, I can assure you that we know that the citizens want us to come up with the animal welfare and when it is ready, we clearly will put it on the table.”
According to his replies to a questionnaire and replies to additional questions, the most advanced part of the revision of animal welfare legislation is linked to the protection of animals during transport. There Sefcovic promised a proposal by December 2023. However, throughout this work he prioritizes a strategic dialogue with stakeholders in industry and agriculture “to inform our work on animal welfare and sustainability at large”.
Already before the hearing, animal welfare NGOs were worried that the European Commission would backslide on its commitment to present a package of revised animal welfare legislation by the end of this year as had been foreseen. The hearing with Sefcovic confirmed their worst fears.
Betraying EU citizens
“The Commission’s U-turn regarding the much-touted animal welfare reform is a failure for democracy and the European project,” commented Olga Kikou, Head of Compassion in World Farming EU. “After years of strong citizen engagement and clear-cut commitments, the Commission is now betraying EU citizens who believed in what was promised in 2020.”
“The farm animal revolution that everyone was expecting would have diminished the suffering of hundreds of millions of animals every year has fallen victim to political games and those who espouse business as usual.”
“Only updating the live transport rules will leave billions of animals at the mercy of outdated legislation, or without any welfare-related legislation,” commented Reineke Hameleers, CEO, Eurogroup for Animals. “Numerous scientific opinions have demonstrated the urgent need to update the existing rules.”
The U-turn does not come as a surprise. As previously reported, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen did not mention the revision of EU’s outdated animal welfare legislation in her State of the Union speech to the European Parliament on 13 September. While mentioning all EU’s major policy areas, animal welfare was conspicuously absent in her speech.
On other occasions, Stella Kyriakides, the Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, had committed on behalf of the Commission to act on European Citizens’ Initiatives (ECIs) signed by millions of EU citizens to improve the legislation. The ECIs “End the Cage Age” and a “Fur Free Europe” were among the most successful Initiatives and reflected a wide-spread public opinion on animal welfare.
However, it was also obvious that the revision of animal welfare legislation did not have the full support of the Parliament and some member states. Now it is obvious that it also lacks full support in the Commission. At a conference in March, the head of the unit dealing with the legislation in Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety (DG SANTE) warned that the Commission would face an “incredible” number of constraints before presenting the proposals.
The Brussels Times