Animal Exports and the EU

In 1997, European lawmakers agreed that animals should be protected in all areas of EU trade; the definition of animals as sentient beings was adopted to show animal welfare should never be ignored.

We’re known for our caring nature in the South West, and a lot of constituents have written to me in the past with concerns over animal exports from the UK. Some on the Leave side are using this as a platform to call for us to exit the European Union, in a cynical attempt to manipulate peoples’ caring nature into votes for their own cause – one we know involves a bonfire of legislation they label “red tape”. As animal welfare advocates myself and the rest of the Greens-EFA group will continue to be vocal supporters of abolishing the practice. Unfortunately leaving the EU will not help us achieve our goal.

To be clear, there have been no live export sailings from the South West, or anywhere in the UK to date this year, and all sailings for slaughter last year were of sheep, from the port of Ramsgate in the South East. As Vice President of the Animal Welfare intergroup here in the European Parliament, my Green colleague for the region Keith Taylor MEP has been working tirelessly on this issue, whether live animals are exported from the UK or elsewhere in the European Union.

Whether a member or not of the EU, the UK is bound by the rules and regulations that come with being a member of the World Trade Organisation. These rules, as the RSPCA have pointed out, enshrine the principle of free movement of trade. Should the UK attempt to unilaterally ban live exports, it is likely that such a trade restriction would be overruled by the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

A major impediment to the adoption of stronger animal protection legislation by the EU (and other countries) is the free trade legislation of the WTO. The conventional view is that while a WTO member country may prohibit the use of cruel practices in its own jurisdiction, it cannot restrict the import/export of products with other countries. EU officials often state that they cannot take a particular action because it would be incompatible with the WTO rules. For example, the EU has been unable to ban:

  • The import of products made with eggs from hens kept in barren battery cages, despite the EU prohibiting this farming system across member states.
  • The import of fur products from the US, Canada and Russia which use cruel leghold traps, instead they have negotiated agreements with these countries that at the moment do little to truly discourage their use.

We can only speculate about what the Conservatives would do in the event of a vote to Leave, but I doubt that a party that has already tried to weaken our animal welfare laws would put banning live exports at the top of its agenda.

Either way, a UK ban on live exports is not the route to bring about an end to his trade. As a part of the EU, we can push for tougher welfare protections for exported animals. The recently launched Stop The Trucks campaign is calling on the EU Commission to review and update Council Regulation 1/2005 on the protection of animals during transport and Austria, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands have all submitted an official request for such (the UK is yet to do so).

The introduction of stronger regulations that impose maximum journey times and better conditions that align with animal welfare science, could bring about an end to live exports from the UK as the majority of journeys would fall outside the maximum recommended journey time of eight hours. For example trials by Compassion in World Farming have highlighted 18 hour journeys from Northern England to France (630 miles) and 23 hour journeys from Southern England to South Germany (590 miles). So we see again that with the political will, we can achieve great things through the European institutions. If animals had a vote, they’d vote to remain!

Along with my colleagues Jean Lambert and Keith Taylor, I produce a  newsletter on Animal Welfare and the EU called Making Tracks. You can find the latest version will soon be available here, and might be interested in our referendum leafletWhat Europe Is Doing For Animals“.

Is the EU trying to ban kettles, vacuums and hair dryers?

It’s likely that you’ve seen a host of UK media publications having a poke at the EU for wanting to “ban dozens of high-wattage household electrical appliances” from hair dryers to smartphones. But with 95% of Brits in favour of tougher energy standards, what’s the problem?  

The story about power ratings comes from EU legislation on Ecodesign. The ‘Ecodesign’ scheme aims to increase energy efficiency of our products and is part of ‘Europe 2020’ the EU’s jobs and growth strategy.  Europe 2020 was launched in 2010 to create the conditions for ‘smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.’ It has five headline targets for the EU to achieve by the end of 2020. These cover employment; research and development; climate/energy; education; social inclusion and poverty reduction. It’s safe to say these are all ideologies that sound good.

The Ecodesign falls into this scheme as it is aims at eliminating the least performing products, and improving the environmental performance of products sold across the EU, which would both reduce energy consumption and increase innovation.

The European Commission (The EU’s executive body) is currently in the process of developing a new working plan for the scheme. As part of the development of this plan, it commissioned researchers to narrow the options to about 20 ‘priority product groups’. Once identified, each type of product and the potential for regulation will be investigated further. Some priority groups are common household appliances, such as kettles – which the media has been so quick to report on – others are not, like escalators.

So what’s the benefit? Well, there is good reasoning behind these energy efficiency measures. It is estimated that they will curb global warming by reducing carbon emissions by 7% below 2010 levels. Furthermore consumers could make a saving of around £370 per household per year; so it’s no surprise that in an official poll 95% of Brits were in favour of tougher energy standards.

These measures will also help the innovation of new, better performing products in the EU which would create greener jobs. It is estimated that, together with the Energy Labelling Directive, it will generate €54 billion in extra revenue by 2020 and help create 800,000 jobs across the EU including the UK.

My colleagues and I in the Greens/EFA group of the European Parliament support these measures, with Claude Turmes, Greens/EFA MEP and member of the Industry, research and energy committee, saying:

“It is estimated that labelling and ecodesign rules could save the equivalent of Italy’s annual energy consumption by 2020. The Commission’s proposal is a good starting point to ensure the new system is consumer-friendly.” 

Will There Be an EU Army?

There have been a lot of ungrounded scare stories during the EU debate and one of these that has reared its ugly head lately is the idea that there is a plan for an EU army. That British soldiers might fight under an EU flag is one of these exaggerated myths designed to frighten rather than communicate clearly what the EU is about.

It is true that there are EU politicians who would like to see a unified European Army. However, in what typifies the democratic structure of the European Union, any merging of forces cannot happen without the consent of all 28 countries in the EU agreeing to it. Article 42 of the Lisbon Treaty (which is fully public) states that what it calls ‘a common defence’ would require unanimity in the European Council, meaning that every single government would have to agree to it. The UK even has an extra clause – if our government did in fact wish to merge an EU army, any proposal on defence mergers must be put to a UK referendum so that we’d get the final say directly.

Current EU military efforts remain tentative and are largely intergovernmental rather than EU-based, and the Common Security and Defence Policy entails few obligations. Current projects include training anti-jihadists in Mali and disrupting human traffickers in the Mediterranean. Countries can veto each operation and largely decide how much to contribute on a case-by-case basis. EU military staff do not become part of an EU military bur remain employed by their national governments operating on secondment to the EU military staff.

If we remain in the EU after 23rd June, little is set to change without our consent, and this level of cooperation will continue. Obviously, it is impossible to say what the outcome of negotiations over security cooperation would be in the event that we leave, however it is worth noting that as we are arguably the country most opposed to any
‘EU army’, so leaving could actually make it more likely.

The European Gendarmerie Force or EUROGENDFOR is not an EU body, but its stated aim is to participate to the stabilisation of crisis and conflict areas outside the European Union. It only has 7 member countries, and the UK is not one. It has not been deployed in any EU country. It is currently engaged in the Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan, and missions in Central African Republic and Sahel Mali and was previously deployed in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in the UN mission in Haiti, as well as in a NATO mission Afghanistan. The Bosnia-Herzegovina mission remained under the control of the ambassadors of EU countries but was led by British former soldier Paddy Ashdown as High Representative. Ashdown worked to strengthen the central state institutions, bringing in statewide legal bodies such as State Investigation and Protection Agency and bringing the two ethnic armies under a central civilian command.

So the claim that the EU could somehow create an EU army against British will and behind closed doors is utterly untrue. There is also no prospect of British soldiers fighting under an EU flag. It is likely that we will continue to cooperate in military operations where we have common objectives and where cooperation can help to achieve these.

Another Fishy case for Brexit

With the South West home to two of the three largest fish landing ports in England and Wales, this week I spoke on the radio about EU fisheries policies and how they ensure long term sustainability for the industry, both in terms of fish stocks and jobs for our region.

For a while now, Brexiteers have been manipulating the concerns of those in the fishing industry and misleadingly championing the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) as a reason to abandon the EU and “take back control” of our waters. Aside from the obvious fact that fish do not respect the borders of national waters (which means even Norway has to negotiate fishing quotas with the EU), let’s look at what these fishing policies mean in practical terms for fishermen: how fishing quotas are really allocated, and why these demonstrate that if anything, fisheries policies are a great reason to remain.

Part of the misleading tactics rightly focuses on the fact that, despite the UK fishing fleet being made up primarily of small inshore fishing vessels, just a tiny amount of the UK fishing quota (~6%) is shared between them. However, what they fail to mention is that whilst each Member State negotiates a national quota, the dividing up of these allocated national quotas is decided by the Member States, not the EU. It was George Eustice himself and the Conservative government that chose last year to give just one vessel nearly a quarter of the English quota, not the EU. In fact, some member states already even use the allocation method for dividing their quota called for by some Brexiteers.

The CFP, and the negotiations of national quotas called Total Allowable Catch (TACs), are based around scientific data that show the maximum sustainable yields based on current fish stocks. It’s true that before serious reform in 2013, the CFP was destructive to fish stocks in European waters, with scientists and NGOs rightly raising concerns over the unsustainable practices it facilitated. However a recent analysis of 118 years of statistics revealed the vast majority of the decline occurred prior to the Common Fisheries Policy’s implementation in 1983. In fact, the policy is now overall helping, not harming UK fisheries and would be doing even better if member states didn’t repeatedly ignore scientific advice when allocating TACs, with the UK being one of the worst.

The health of our marine ecosystems depends upon them being protected, and today EU policies seek to do exactly that. The much revered Habitats Directive protects key habitats and species like the Atlantic salmon, and the Water and Marine Strategy Framework Directives commit EU Member States to restore and protect their marine environments. There’s also the successful discard ban that fishermen wanted and the UK fought for. This was a campaign that you won’t have heard about from Nigel Farage despite him sitting on the European Parliament fisheries committee, but from people like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, and it’s success demonstrated how people pressure really can change EU policy for the better.

In summary, fish don’t respect borders and collaborative managing of fish stocks is essential for the fishing industry, as much as it is for the environment, in the long term. We’ve come a long way since the days of mass overfishing and illegal fishing, and as a result UK quotas are even on the up. George Eustice himself said not so long ago, “By fighting for the fishing industry, and making a clear case for the need for more sustainable fishing, we have got a good deal and shown we can get what we need in Europe.”
So why would we want to jump ship now?



See our EU and Fisheries Briefing for more.

Beware of Etonians Bearing Pasties

This week we have witnessed the worst kind of political theatre with the arrival of the Boris Battle Bus in Cornwall. Boris wasted no time in adopting the symbols of the holidaymaker: the pasty and the ice cream. Only the knotted handkerchief and rolled up trousers were absent. This is not patriotism, it is patronising; using the people of Cornwall as a backdrop for political opportunism. As has been pointed out, Boris was able to brandish his Cornish Cornish pasty because the EU offers this product protected status. Given the fact most Brexiteers favour a market free-for-all, we could end up with fake pasties from the US filled with hormone fed beef, or from Asia with horsemeat.

But tourists to Cornwall and the many businesses serving them have benefited from EU regulations. In the 1970s we used to pump our untreated sewage straight into the sea. EU regulations – in particular the Bathing Water Directive – have forced the UK to clean up its act. Now over 95% of our beaches have sea water that is clean enough to swim in [1]. It will escape few that coastal and marine litter is also a huge environmental problem. Here again EU regulations are helping. Campaign group Surfers against Sewage say the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive is currently the strongest and potentially the most effective legal tool to help reduce levels of marine litter.
Before Boris stepped off the bus or uttered a word, his grand Brexit deception had already begun. Daubed across his shiny red vehicle is the slogan: We send £350 million a week to the EU, lets fund our NHS instead. This is deceptive in two senses. Firstly, the actual net figure, when the rebate the EU sends to UK is taken into account, is around £120 million a week [2]. This works out at roughly £236 per household per year, or £4.50 a week. When you consider that most of this rebate is spent on farming and regional aid – helping regions like Cornwall in particular – what we pay the EU actually looks like money well spent. Cornwall is also scheduled to receive over half a billion pounds from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and European Social Fund (ESF) between 2014 and 2020. These funds aim to reduce regional disparities in income, wealth and increase economic opportunities.

As to claims about funding the NHS instead of sending money to the EU, Arron Banks, Leave campaigner, has stated publically that he wants to privatise the NHS. I would also urge people to listen to the views of junior doctors, nurses and others working in the NHS about the Tories commitment to the NHS rather than to Boris.

Meanwhile Boris’ government is destroying Cornwall’s economic opportunities through its attacks on renewables. A report I commissioned last year concluded that through a combination of wind, solar, wave and geothermal energy, Cornwall has the potential to generate 161% of its energy needs [3]. The region has the greatest potential for renewables energy of any region in the UK and could become a powerhouse for the South West. All that holds us back is a lack of political will and a pro nuclear and pro fossil fuels ideological obsession. This is having a hugely damaging effect on investment in the clean green industries which we need for a sustainable future.

I hope the good people of Cornwall will realise they have been thoroughly exploited by Boris’ whirlwind visit. Ultimately, the Boris Battle Bus has only one destination in mind. Boris is hoping to use Brexit as a route to becoming the next Prime Minister. Don’t be fooled. Don’t be used as a backdrop for somebody else’s electioneering. On 23rd June, make the choice that works best for Cornwall.