European Union Welfare Legislation
Updated December 2014
The European Union (EU) was established by the Treaty of Rome (EEC Treaty or TEC) signed in 1951, with the objective of safeguarding peace and promoting economic and social progress in Europe. The EU is essentially an area of economic activity and trade without internal frontiers. The Treaty identified animals as 'goods' or 'agricultural products'. There were no powers in the Treaty of Rome to introduce EU legislation for the specific purpose of protecting animals. Thus, any measures to protect animals were supposed to be secondary to the primary purpose of the legislation (such as harmonization of Member States laws).
There was some improvement in this situation in 1992, when the Treaty of the European Union was signed in Maastricht (The Maastricht Treaty). A declaration was agreed, which was annexed to the Treaty rather than integrated into its provisions. This required the European Institutions to take account of animal welfare when considering legislation in the areas of research, transport, agriculture and the internal market.
The European Union heads of state of government meeting in Amsterdam June 16 1997 agreed to include a special legally binding protocol on animal welfare in the new European Union Treaty (The Amsterdam Treaty). The text of this protocol is repeated below:
Protocol to the EUROPEAN UNION TREATY (THE AMSTERDAM TREATY)
"THE HIGH CONTRACTING PARTIES
DESIRING to ensure improved protection and respect for the welfare of animals as sentient beings
HAVE AGREED upon the following provision which shall be annexed to the Treaty establishing the European Community:
In formulating and implementing the Community's agriculture, transport, internal market and research policies, the Community and the Member States shall pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals, while respecting the legislative or administrative provisions and customs of the Member States relating in particular to religious rites, cultural traditions and regional heritage."
This protocol was introduced following strong pressure from the animal protection community. It introduced a clear legal obligation for the Community institutions (Commission, Parliament and Council) to pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals. It did not, however, extend the competence of the Community to include animal welfare per se within its remit. Furthermore, there is a growing movement in favor of the principle of 'subsidiarity' in the EU, which considers that EU legislation should only cover areas which impinge upon EU trade/economy, and that other matters - such as animal welfare - should be dealt with at national level.
There is more about the EU’s work on animal welfare, including its animal welfare strategy and areas of interest on its website.
Further details on animal protection law at EU level can also be obtained from Eurogroup for Animals.
All the EU's welfare legislation is legally binding upon Member States, and the country can be taken to the European Court of Justice for any cases of non-compliance. The EU's animal welfare legislation takes the form of Regulations, Decisions or Directives, although the latter is more usual in the field of animal welfare. The difference is as follows:
Have general application and direct force of law in all member states. If there is conflict with a national law, the regulation prevails. There is no need to transpose regulations into national legislation for them to take effect.
Binding on member states as to the results to be achieved, but leaves the method of implementation to national governments. They should be transposed into national law.
Binding on those to whom they are addressed (can be member states, companies or individuals).
The Eurogroup for Animals forms the Secretariat of the Intergroup on the Welfare and Conservation of Animals (the European Parliament group established to consider these matters). Eurogroup carries out political lobbying at EU level on all animal welfare matters. Its objective is to work towards "the introduction, implementation and enforcement of animal welfare legislation in the European Union." It has member societies in most of the EU member countries.
Eurogroup is a useful source of information on EU animal welfare legislation. See Useful Resources and Contacts
The European Coalition to End Animal Experiments was established in 1990, originally as the European Coalition to End Cosmetic Testing on Animals and later expanding its remit to include all areas of animal experimentation. The European Coalition comprises active animal welfare/rights groups throughout Europe sharing a common interest in working together to end animal experimentation. The European Coalition's early flagship campaigns were cosmetic testing and the use of primates for research, but it now covers all areas of animal experimentation in its lobbying activities.