Vier Pfoten/Four Paws welcomes the judgment of the Court of Justice of the EU highlighting the legal loophole in the distinction between commercial and non-commercial movement of dogs and urges the EU Commission to find an appropriate balance between facilitating free movement of animals and protecting animal and human health.
Today, the Court of Justice of the European Union gave its judgment in the Pfotenhilfe-Ungarn Case C-301/14 concerning the qualification of cross border transportation of stray dogs for adoption as a commercial activity. Pfotenhilfe-Ungarn is a German registered charity set up to rehome abandoned dogs from Hungary to households in Germany. While the charity was transporting 39 dogs through Germany, they were stopped by the German authorities, and prosecuted for not having respected the EU commercial movement requirements (both EU Transport Regulation and EU Sanitary Directive). Pfotenhilfe-Ungarn stated these requirements should not apply to cross border transportation of dogs for adoption as it is not a commercial activity and that Pfotenhilfe-Ungarn is an animal welfare charity and not a commercial operator. With regards to the absence of a clear definition of what a commercial activity consists of, the German jurisdiction decided to refer the matter to the Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling.
Following the recommendation by the General Advocate Sharpston, the Court of justice made a careful analysis of the definitions included in the diverse pieces of EU legislation and concluded that the cross border transportation of dogs for adoption does not fit with either the commercial legislation, nor with the non-commercial legislation. However the Court concluded that regarding the health risk represented by the movement of so many dogs, it would be better to consider this movement as commercial to safeguard against these risks. Moreover, the Court emphasised that according to EU case law, the term ‘commercial’ should not be applied on the basis of the existence of a financial profit, but on the basis of the existence of a possible competition.
“VIER PFOTEN/ FOUR PAWS welcomes this judgment as it will help to clarify the scope of non-commercial and commercial movement legislation” said Pierre Sultana, Director of the European Policy Office . “But unfortunately it will not help in solving the legal loophole which still exists in this area and the potential resulting health and welfare issues. In particular, this case has shown the need to clarify EU legislation, as well as the different types of transport schemes for animals”.
VIER PFOTEN/ FOUR PAWS does not support cross border adoptions of dogs and cats and is of the opinion that the problem of numerous abandoned and stray animals should be solved at national/regional/ local level by an action plan comprising of systematic birth control, medical care and statutory registration (micro-chipping) and identification in the respective countries, accompanied by an EU-wide identification and registration system. While VIER PFOTEN/ FOUR PAWS does not actively campaign against those organisations exporting stray dogs for adoption, it is important to be aware of the risks. In particular, VIER PFOTEN/ FOUR PAWS recommends strongly not to transport any dog which has not been properly checked by a vet, vaccinated, micro-chipped, neutered and dewormed.
VIER PFOTEN/ FOUR PAWS is joining the call of the General Advocate Sharpston to the EU legislator to find an “appropriate balance between facilitating free movement of animals in a good cause while ensuring appropriate protection of animal and human health, bearing in mind also the need to guard against fraud and abuse”. In particular, VIER PFOTEN/ FOUR PAWS is advocating for a mandatory EU requirement of identification and registration of all dogs and cats.