Animal Protection > Actions - Index > Austria
Ban on wild animals in circuses is kept upheld!

Sent: Friday, January 12, 2007 3:19 PM
To: European Vegetarian Union
Subject: Success: Ban on wild animals in circuses is kept upheld!

Success: Ban on wild animals in circuses is kept upheld!

EU-Commission closed infringement proceedings
    Dear animal advocates,
    As you all know the Commission started infringement proceedings against Austria on 12th October 2005. The Commission complained that the Austrian ban on wild animals in circuses is an unjustifiable restriction of the freedom to provide services. They argued, that the aim to protect the life and wellbeing of wild animals in circuses could be reached with less restrictive measures than a complete ban. According to this they were of the opinion, that the Austrian animal protection law has broken article 49 of the EC-Treaty.
     After intense international protests the Commission closed the infringement proceedings on 12th December 2006. (Answer to the Parlamentary Question of the Austrian MEP Jörg Leichtfried (E-4489/06), see: ). The Austrian ban on wild animals in circuses is kept upheld!
    Thank you all for supporting our aims and our campaign! We really did it! A big success with further implications:
    1. Other European Countries like the Netherlands, Croatia and Hungary that are working on a complete ban on wild animals in circuses do have more legal certainty now. They can be sure that a complete ban is in harmony with EU regulations.
     2. As the Commission closed the case they accepted, that a complete ban on wild animals in circuses is a proper measure. They even accepted, that there is no less restrictive measure to reach the aim of animal protection. This is a very strong argument for a ban on wild animals in circuses on EU level. It even seems that there is no argument left to get around a complete ban on the long run.
     Thank you for your support und good luck for your national campaigns!
     Best regards,
     Harald Balluch

You can find more information on the infringement proceedings (inclusively the letter from the Commission and the statement of VGT in english) here:

A short summing-up of the campaign:
EU threat against Austrian circus animal ban thwarted!
After complaints by foreign circuses, the EU commission threatened to undo the Austrian ban on wild animals. A concerted 7 month EU-wide campaign persuaded the EU-commissioner otherwise.

From 1996, the Austrian animal rights group VGT had run a nationwide campaign in Austria to persuade the public and the politicians that wild animals in circuses must be banned. After a 2 year phase-out period, this complete ban on all wild animals actually came into place on 1st January 2005. In Austria, a last circus using zebras, buffaloes and a fox was stopped after a few months, while foreign circuses with wild animals were not allowed into the country. A German circus, who was denied entrance, complained to the EU-Commission. In a letter dated 12th October 2005, the EU-Commissioner for the Internal Market, Charlie McCreevy, threatened the Austrian government to withdraw the law, otherwise it will be challenged in the European Courts. According to his opinion, the ban on wild animals was going too far to achieve the aim of animal protection and hence unlawfully restricted the Freedom of Provision of Services within the EU.

The EU-Commission demanded that the law at least be changed such that foreign circuses with wild animals can freely enter Austria and do performances here. According to the Freedom of Provision of Services, one of the 4 basic Freedoms of the Internal Market, somebody, who legally provides services in one country, must be able to do so in any other country in the EU. According to this view it would be sufficient to have one EU member state allowing wild animals in circuses, so that all circuses from this country could go around the whole of the EU to do wild animal circus shows. Albeit the EU Commission being a formidable opponent, VGT decided to rise to the challenge. Professional expert evidence on EU law and on the suffering of wild animals in circuses was attained and presented to the EU-Commissioner and the Austrian government. On 20th December 2005, VGT presented a website ( dedicated to this campaign in 30 different languages. With an automated service, visitors of the site could read and send protest emails in their own language to their EU Commissioner and to Commissioner McCreevy. At the beginning of April, more than 20.000 people had already used that opportunity. In addition, a large number of individuals and groups right across the EU have sent their own letters of complaint and expert statements in defence of the Austrian ban.
Internationally, animal welfare as much as animal rights is united behind demanding a ban on wild animals in circuses. Even the Eurogroup for Animal Welfare, an association of a large number of national animal welfare groups in the EU, has issued a statement in favour of banning wild animals from circuses.

Also in the EU-Parliament, MEPs started to defend the Austrian ban. MEP Jörg Leichtfried from the Austrian Social Democrats gave speech in the EU-Parliament on 13th December 2005 in the presence of Commissioner McCreevy saying that the protection of the welfare of animals must be paramount in the EU. Hence with the ban on wild animals in circuses, Austria is leading the way for animal protection and should be applauded not reprimanded. Altogether there were 4 times official questions posed to the EU-Commission during December 2005 and January 2006 by MEPs, in support of the Austrian ban and against the steps taken by the Commission: 2 from Austria (23. 11. and 6. 12. 2005), 1 from England (12. 1. 2006) and 1 from Holland (5. 1. 2006). In addition, a German MEP asked the EU-Council on 9. 12. 2005 similar questions.

By Mid-January 2006, the Austrian government answered to the EU-Commission that the ban is just and legal and that Austria will stand by it and take up any challenge against it in the European Court. A vast amount of media attention in favour of this position together with lobbying of the Austrian Parliament has helped the government coming to this decision. In the letter it is argued that no less than a ban is necessary to protect wild animals from suffering and that this goal is more important than the principle of free provision of services.

On 25th January 2006, Green Party MPs brought a bill to a vote in the Austrian Parliament which demands of the government to support the ban by all means and to use its 6 month period from 1st January 2006 as president of the EU-council to pressure for a similar ban EU-wide. A large majority voted in favour of this proposition.

On 7th February 2006, the German Parliament followed suit. The Green Party put a similar proposal to the vote. Again, the large majority of Parliament approved the proposal, ending with the words: "The German Parliament is, together will all animal protectionists in the EU, expecting that the EU-Commission will stick to the aims formulated in the EU constitutional proposal, which included animal welfare, and hence that the Commission will support all efforts on the national level to protect wild animals and that it won't insist on forms of keeping and using animals that are inconsistent with animal welfare or the protection of species."

On 16th February 2006, EU Parliament decided on a new directive regarding the provision of services across borders within the EU. After many protests, the fraction won the day which said that those providing services must abide by the laws of the country they are providing the services in. This decision, clearly, also supported the position that a ban on wild animals in one country must be respected by the circuses in all other countries.

While the EU-Commissioner McCreevy was reluctant to answer any questions or to meet with animal advocate delegations, his replies to queries changed from being very assertive at the beginning of the campaign, to being quite defensive at the end. Also, a number of MEPs had been prompted by animal rights groups, especially the VGT, to have appointments with him and pressure for a reaction. It became more and more clear that animal rights had won the day. On 12th April 2006, Commissioner McCreevy said publicly regarding this case: "As we had received a complaint, we had to follow it up. But I am confident that this case can soon be closed." After publication of this statement, many MEPs congratulated the Commissioner to this decision to drop the case. With this outcome, it is clear that the wellbeing of animals is becoming an increasingly important issue in the EU.

On 12th December 2006 the Commission formally closed the infringement proceedings. A big success for the international movement for animals and a big step forward to a ban on european level!

VGT - VEREIN GEGEN TIERFABRIKEN, Waidhausenstr. 13/1, A-1140 Wien
Tel +43 1 929 14 98, Fax +43 1 929 14 982,


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