One of the issues that concerns many British people is animal welfare. During my time as an MEP, I made this issue a priority, and conversations with voters during this election campaign has confirmed to me that the topic is still close to many people’s hearts.
As with many significant political issues, animal welfare rules are almost all made at national level. The principle of subsidiarity which underpins the EU means that we only take decisions together with our European partners when we all agree that joint action is needed.
But there are a few areas where this is clearly the case — there are some objectives that individual countries could never achieve alone. And, importantly for those of us who care about animal welfare, there are also opportunities to spread best practice in one country (e.g. Britain) to our neighbours.
- Take, for instance, the EU-wide rules that exist to protect endangered birds. Britain already had high levels of protection for threatened species, but many species cross our continent when they migrate, so obviously the only way to protect these migration routes is to agree continent-wide measures. This we have done. Until the pan-European rules were agreed, some member states (notably Malta) allowed people to kill migrating birds all year round for “sport” as they flew overhead. Thanks to joint action at EU level, this is no longer legal — even if there is still a battle being fought for proper enforcement.
- Another example is the campaign to limit how long livestock can be transported across the continent for slaughter. The practice of subjecting live animals to extremely long journeys in stressful conditions, simply so they can be slaughtered at their destination, is barbaric. But again, since these journeys cross borders, the most effective way to put a stop to the practice is to agree joint rules with our neighbours.
Examples such as these also give the lie to the eurosceptic idea that each country should be able to use its national law to overrule what it has agreed at European level. What would be the point in us all agreeing to protect migratory birds, if one country was then free simply to ignore its commitment and shoot them anyway?