Last month, it happened to be that I transported my cat from Maastricht to Rome by car. To cut a long story short, since this was the first time I had undertaken such a trip, I decided to educate myself on how this is possible within the EU. That is when I thought “Well, we have free movement of persons, services, goods and capital, so in which one of the four do animals fit?”. Only to find out that they are not comprised in any of these categories, actually, they have their very own section within the EU Treaties. Guess where: in the Health Protection (of humans of course) section.

To be honest, I do not want to start an ontological discussion here, but for me, this embellishes the entire discourse regarding animal rights in the EU. Why? Because it shows the perception we have of the issue: animals are seen as functional to human beings. They are functional to the protection and well-being of humans. They are functional in ensuring food supplies for the poor, underweight EU citizens, and they are functional as the test subject of all our beauty knick-knacks (actually, thank god, this is no longer the case). It is true that the EU has been very progressive in this area, for example cosmetics testing on animals have been banned and it is now (since the Lisbon Treaty) an obligation for policy makers to take into account animal welfare when formulating legislation. However, the welfare of animals basically means, “let’s ensure that, when they go to the slaughter, they are not conscious”.

This, to me, does not seem to be the exact mirror of what I would consider social welfare, let alone what I would consider social rights. Even the EU Strategy for the Protection and Welfare of Animals 2012-2015, which is supposed to be THE document centred on animals, fuels this kind of vision. It refers to measures of increasing consumers’ awareness, of the Common Agricultural Policy, to increasing the level of training for people who take care of animals, but no mention to the rights of animals themselves.

This does not necessarily mean that the Treaties should have a new chapter on free movement of animals for instance. It suggests, however, that the perspective of EU policy makers and public opinion should slightly shift from that of users of animals, to that of fellow living creatures. Because seeing animals as functional to human beings is a utilitarian view which necessarily limits the scope of the discourse to the mere welfare of animals (let them die with dignity). In theory, though, welfare is only one part of the rights of a living being (along with the right to a decent life, for instance). But, again, we first need to shift our perspective on the discourse if we want to understand that animals have rights, not only in dying, but also in living.

An example of rights in life and death: the ECI to stop vivisection

The Commission’s view on animal welfare (notice, again, how, despite the great standards in animal welfare, the benefits of this are always measured in relation to human gains)