Spain Wary of British Animal Rights Moves European Community Members Watch Every Comma, Cross Every before Maastricht - a Letter from Brussels
Howard LaFranchi, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
AT a press briefing on this week's round of negotiations among European Community foreign ministers preparing a profound revision of the EC's governing treaty, a spokesman for British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd announced that Britain would seek language to enforce animal rights.
"Don't laugh," the spokesman responded to a room full of snickering journalists more accustomed to following disputes over a European defense role and the fine points of European monetary union. "This is quite serious."
Indeed, in the year-long talks pushing forward the Community's economic and political integration, which will culminate in the Netherlands town of Maastricht next Tuesday, nothing escapes close scrutiny.
That is why Spain responded so swiftly to Britain's proposal to bring animal rights within Community jurisdiction. "We are not opposed to a narrowly defined declaration on animal rights," said one Spanish official in Brussels, "but we don't want to see it affecting popular traditions and national festivals." In other words, Spain doesn't want the Community touching its bullfights.
The British have their own reasons for making the animal rights proposal. The issue is extremely sensitive in Britain. And "it's an important element" in bringing often reluctant citizens into what, for most of them, remains a distant, bureaucratic process, the British spokesman said.
In its present form the declaration "would not be binding," the spokesman said, and would apply to EC agriculture regulations, animal transport, and research. But "it could be," he added, that an adopted text would develop into something more constraining in the future. And that is what worries Spain.
"This could not be considered as opening the door to a wider definition farther down the road," the Spanish official says. "It is not within Community jurisdiction."
As the generally pro-Community and federalist Spanish know, such doors, once opened, are nearly impossible to shut. …