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GIVING the plenary Wooldridge Memorial Lecture at this year's bva Congress in Belfast, mep Mrs Avril Doyle highlighted the impact of European Union (eu) legislation on individual member states. She urged those present to pay more attention to what was going on in the European Commission (ec) and the European Parliament, and to use every means possible to seek to influence the decisions being made (see VR, October 13, 2007, vol 161 pp 505-506).
Mrs Doyle acknowledged that the European legislative process could seem complicated and that the democratic consultation process was slow, with the result that legislation typically took about two-and-a-half years to come into effect. However, with about 75 per cent of national legislation being determined on the basis of decisions made in Europe, this was hardly a reason not to be involved. People often complained about decisions made in Europe, but a large part of the problem was that people only woke up to their significance when eu rules were transcribed into national law, by which time it was usually too late. Although media coverage in the uk tends to focus on political activity in Westminster and the devolved administrations, many of the important decisions have already been made elsewhere.
Examples of the importance of eu decisions abound in the field of animal health, as anyone who has followed, say, the development of veterinary medicines legislation over the years will testify. Items currently on the agenda in Brussels and Strasbourg include the new Community Animal Health Strategy (also discussed at the bva Congress) which, with its emphasis on sharing costs and responsibilities for animal health, and on disease prevention by strengthening biosecurity, surveillance and research, could affect veterinary activity for years to come (VR, September 29, 2007, vol 161, pp 435-436; October 13, 2007, vol 161, pp 503-504). Meanwhile, the ec and European Parliament continue to consider the animal health requirements applicable to the non-commercial movement of pet animals. A decision is due sometime next year and could affect the future operation of the uk's Pet Travel Scheme (VR, April 21, 2007, vol 160, pp 533, 534-535). It would be crazy to ignore developments in Europe, and the bva, which has long taken an interest, will continue to pay heed to Mrs Doyle's advice.
The organisation that represents the veterinary profession at European level is the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe (fve). The fve is made up of veterinary organisations from 35 countries, with the uk being represented jointly by the bva and the rcvs. Further uk involvement is possible through representation on four Europe-wide groups representing different vocational branches of the profession, which are also members of the fve. One of the fve's twice-yearly General Assemblies takes place in Brussels this week, where items on the agenda include the Community Animal Health Strategy, competition and deregulation of the professions, veterinarians and the environment, and ‘one health’. Each of these topics is important. However, the agenda for one meeting cannot give a true indication of an organisation's activities. The fve continues to be active in a number of areas, and a glance at its website (www.fve.org) gives an indication of the range of issues with which it is involved.
In its strategic plan for 2006 to 2010, the fve describes its mission as ‘uniting the European veterinary profession for the benefit of animal health, animal welfare and public health’. It wishes ‘to promote further growth and development of veterinary medicine and to support veterinarians in fulfilling their responsibilities towards animals and people in a scientific and ethical way’. It says its aim is to create the right conditions so that veterinarians can carry out the tasks that society has conferred on them, that is, caring for animal health and welfare and veterinary public health.
All that is easy to say but, as the strategic plan acknowledges, it is not so easy to deliver, especially when one considers that the veterinary profession is relatively small, and that social, political and economic changes are making its tasks harder. The challenges are increasing and, as the document makes clear, are common to veterinarians in several countries; certainly, many of the concerns identified by its analysis of the issues facing the profession will be shared by veterinarians in the uk. This makes it all the more important that the European profession works collectively to find solutions.
In her Wooldridge Memorial Lecture, Mrs Doyle emphasised the democratic nature of the eu: decisions were based on consensus, which, in an organisation made up of 27 member states, each with its own culture and interests, was not always easy to achieve. The fve also exists as a democratic body and, although it, too, represents a diverse range of interests, veterinarians have more in common with each other than not. As in the eu itself, it is important to find consensus, and for the profession to speak with one voice. It is also important to make that voice heard. As the fve says in its strategic plan, ‘Our future collective success depends on the reputation and position of the veterinary profession, in all its disciplines, within our national and European society. We must ensure that our role and contribution is known, understood and valued by everyone.’