Travel to the beautiful Spanish regions of Tarragona or Andalusia and you may well be encouraged to visit some of the stunning estates dedicated to the rearing of bulls. On a fine day this is likely to be a pleasant excursion; fighting bulls are reared freely in their natural habitat and require open tracts of good land and excellent conditions. Their eventual fate however will be anything but natural. The weakened, confused, and frightened animals will be prodded and antagonised, petroleum jelly smeared on their eyes to blur vision and their nostrils stuffed to complicate breathing. They will then be forced to endure an extended torture session, repeatedly stabbed with harpoons and swords until collapse and death.
In 2010 the Catalan Parliament decided to follow the Canary Islands in banning the horrific brutality of bullfighting. Within Spain, critics described this decision, cynically perhaps, as being less concerned with animal welfare than with an independently-minded region distancing itself from the heroic theatricality of such a specifically Spanish type of pageantry. Animal welfare campaigners cared only that in this important and influential region the practice had been finally outlawed. Despite worldwide public condemnation bullfighting continues in many other Spanish regions, and there is little that the EU can do to stop it.
What we know is that bullfighting does not pay for itself. The costs of running the huge stadiums are enormous and on top of this are the horses, doctors, vets, marketing and of course celebrity bullfighters or ‘aficionados’ that front the attraction. The deficits can run high. To keep the ‘sport’ alive many different tiers of cash-strapped Spanish authorities contribute millions of euros in subsidies. In 2012, switching authority for bullfights from the Interior Ministry to the Ministry of Culture was considered a move to protect an activity seen by many in power to be a vital issue of Spanish culture and identity.
And there are the bulls. Breeding and raising these animals is expensive and given the lack of revenue from bullfighting how can it be profitable? What is wrong is that here the EU steps in to help make this possible through Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) payments. At the European Parliament Plenary last week Labour MEPs voted for an amendment to stop a part of the EU’s agricultural budget going to farmers who raise bulls specifically for lethal bullfighting. The amendment was part of the General budget of the EU for 2015 and the distribution of funds within the limit agreed by Member States last year.
And it came close. MEPs have been fighting for a long time to get subsidies for the rearing of bulls excluded from payment from the CAP. Last week’s an amendment stated that “appropriations (of the CAP) should not be used for supporting breeding or rearing of bulls used for lethal bull-fighting activities”, quoting as justification the European Convention for the protection of animals kept for farming purposes that states that animals should not suffer pain, injury, fear or distress. Clearly these conditions are not met for bulls bred for lethal bull-fighting, so their rearing should not be eligible for direct CAP subsidy.
The amendment was passed with a majority, but not enough of one. Despite 323 voting to suppress funding and 309 voting against, 58 of the 690 MEPs present abstained and with Qualified Majority Voting (QMV) needed for budget-related votes a majority quorum was not met and Parliament still came to authorize the payments.
This latest attempt to end CAP funding for the breeding and rearing of bulls was a political victory - a majority of MEPs are openly anti-bullfighting and pressure will remain on the Spanish government to hear the voice of the many animal welfare groups and concerned EU citizens who continue to call for an end to the barbaric practice.
The vast majority of the EU budget is put to good use but the waste that is still associated with projects such as the Common Agricultural Policy is completely unacceptable and damages the EU’s reputation.