An European Commission evaluation report published last week concluded that the Council Directive 1999/22/EC (known as the “Zoo Directive”) fits for purpose and plays a crucial role with regard to conservation of biodiversity. The report also points out that a more effective and efficient application of the Directive’s requirements is needed to improve the welfare of the animals in zoos as well as the contribution of zoos to biodiversity conservation.
The Zoo Directive constitutes a key piece of EU legislation for the management of wild animals in captivity by establishing a compulsory and centrally regulated licensing system of zoo facilities in all Member States. The Directive aims at ensuring that the keeping of animals in zoos throughout the European Union is done in such a way that the conservation of wild species is preserved and animal welfare is respected as much as possible. Moreover, zoos should fulfill a role in the areas of public education and scientific research.
However, when the Directive has been transposed into national legislation, it has been interpreted differently by each Member State, resulting in a lack of consistency and varying standards across the EU and in hundreds of unlicensed and unregulated zoos. In 2015, the Commission has then developed the EU Zoos Directive Good Practices Document to further clarify and detail the Directive’s provisions. This crucial document, though, has never been translated in Member States languages and has been ignored by most national management authorities.
The Commission report highlights that the main EU added value of the legislation relates to its binding nature, providing a common legal framework that applies equally to all zoos and across all Member States. The report offers also a good overview of the implementation situation in EU Member States and indicates that considerable progress has been made in the last 20 years, also thanks to the continued monitoring efforts of national and international NGOs.
However, not all the conservation measures requested by the Directive have been equally implemented. National competent authorities lack sufficient knowledge and expertise to properly implement the Directive’s requirements and the objective of keeping animals in appropriate conditions is clearly not fully achieved.
Reineke Hameleers, Director of Eurogroup for Animals commented: “We welcome the Commission conclusion that this important legislation fits for purpose and it’s more relevant than ever. However, the report highlights also that continued EU action is needed to support more effective and efficient implementation of the Directive’s requirements, to ensure that zoos fully contribute to biodiversity conservation and that the well-being of the animals in captivity is improved in all Member States. Disappointingly, a clear commitment in this sense is missing in the Commission’s report. Eurogroup for Animals urges the Commission to promptly adopt measures that will facilitate the implementation of the Zoos Directive as well as the welfare of the animals in zoos. There are still too many zoos that keep animals in unacceptable and sub-standard conditions”.
As stressed in the report, the lack of standardized criteria in zoo inspections and the reluctance and delays in closing non-compliant zoos hamper the Directive’s effective implementation. Eurogroup for Animals believes that the Commission should adopt binding EU standards to improve the well-being of the animals in captivity and promptly open infringement procedures against Member States which still fail to meet the requirements of the Directive. In addition, the EU Zoos Directive Good Practices Document should be promptly translated in all Member States’ languages, to make it accessible to all national management authorities. Finally, as suggested in the evaluation report, the establishment of a platform to identify means of improving licensing, inspection and enforcement would certainly facilitate the Directive’s implementation. Eurogroup for Animals is looking forward to working constructively in this sense with the Commission and Member States.
In 2016, the European Commission started the evaluation of the Zoos Directive as part of the Commission’s Regulatory Fitness and Performance programme (REFIT). The evaluation examined the performance of the Zoos Directive and assessed its impact from its adoption in 1999 until 2016, according to five standard evaluation criteria: effectiveness, efficiency, relevance, coherence and EU added value as well as lessons learned. The findings of the evaluation published last week are intended to inform any future decisions on the Directive. Eurogroup for Animals and its member organisations have actively participated to the evaluation process, providing inputs and information during the stakeholders’ consultation phase.