6 oktober 2020


Europa- Brussel – Europarlementariër István Ujhelyi, de oprichter van het             “BigTopLabel”, heeft de onderstaande brief gestuurd naar mevrouw Barbara  Pompili, minister van Milieu in Frankrijk, die eerder deze week aankondigde een verbod op “wilde dieren” bij rondreizende circussen in te willen voeren in de Franse wet.

Dear Madam Minister,

I am writing to you as an elected Member of the European Parliament, a member of the EP’s Committee on the Environment and Public Health and an honorary ambassador for circus arts.

I read with interest the French Government’s announcement yesterday that France will ‘gradually’ ban wild animals in traveling circuses and also plans to ban mink farming as well as the breeding of dolphins and orcas in captivity. Without calling into question the French Government’s goodwill and decision-making power in this matter, please allow me to draw your attention to some important facts and recent changes concerning traditional circus art, as well as an initiative I have launched, all of which may nuance your claims.

“Circus art is a vivid part of Europe’s cultural heritage with a history, in all its forms, that spans centuries,” said President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen recently. In fact, the extremely valuable cultural heritage of the 250 years of European circus art is an important pillar of our common culture and an important building block for better understanding between nations, languages, communities and generations.

European circus art provides a livelihood for many thousands of people, thus strengthening the economy. Unfortunately, the coronavirus epidemic has hit the cultural and tourism sectors the hardest; forcing entrepreneurs and employees in these two sectors to suffer heavy losses. The further spread of the pandemic could have additional unpredictable consequences for the sector. Without government help and attention, this 250-year-old cultural heritage shall be irreversibly damaged, so I ask that increased attention be paid to circus performers and circus industry players.

With regard to the restrictions announced by the French Government, I would like to draw your attention to an authoritative initiative that I have launched, which is receiving growing attention. There is no question that there are excellent and exemplary companies and businesses among the players of European circus arts, and there are those, too, who inarguably cast the sector in a bad light; for example in the field of responsible animal husbandry.

In 2016, I organized a comprehensive and wide-ranging conference in the European Parliament, where we discussed the future of circus art together with professional and civic organizations, advocacy associations, and policy makers. It was then that I took the initiative to develop a quality assurance system that monitors and certifies circus companies, making a clear and unambiguous distinction between good and bad, exemplary and unqualified.

After two years of work, in 2018 we conducted the first tests and handed over the first BigTopLabel certifications to stakeholders, including Arlette Gruss from France, in the company of EU Commissioner for Culture, Mr. Tibor Navracsics.

Last year, taking it to the next level, in the presence of the Vice-President of the European Parliament Heidi Hautala and Princess Stéphanie of Monaco, we handed out further awards to those who met the requirements of the strict criteria system and performed well at our on-the-spot inspections, too.

The BigTopLabel recognition has so far only been awarded to 6 circuses out of hundreds of European companies; the low number is not accidental, as it is an exceptional recognition. However, it is important to add that most of these 6 also include exotic animals in their show. Under conditions and in a way that is impeccable and even exemplary from an educational perspective.

Madam Minister, you have justified, among other things, your government’s restrictive decision by saying that people’s “attitudes towards wild animals have changed”.

As a connoisseur of European circus art, allow me to make a small correction: people’s attitudes have hardly changed; the masses still want to see animal acts in circuses.

The question is under what conditions.

I myself am an extremely committed fighter to only show animal acts in circuses that meet the highest possible animal welfare, public health, ethical and moral standards. Needless to say, I am aware that there are very few such acts. But there are. I think it is important that we only punish what deserves to be punished, whereas exemplary practices should be recognised as examples to follow – this is, among others, what BigTopLabel project is about.

As a European politician and decision-maker, I am of course aware that such and similarly sensitive issues are difficult to resolve reassuringly. In this letter, I would just like to draw the attention of the Government and Madam Minister to the fact that before making a final decision and elaborating the details of the new, stricter measures (including timeliness, completeness, possible compensation, etc.), it is good to take a step back from examining the subject and look at the matter from a distance.

Examine the cultural, social and economic benefits of circus arts, the impacts thereof and take a closer look at the exemplary players in the sector who deserve attention and that a meaningful dialogue be conducted with them.

There is a circus company in France too that has earned this special attention.

Dear Madam Minister,

I believe we are on the same side.

I’m a fierce advocate of animal protection as well as a dedicated circus art fan. The two can indeed coexist.

I look forward to hearing from you,

Yours faithfully,

MEP István Ujhelyi dr.

Brussels – 04.10.2020.

HKH Prinses Stephanie is voorstander van dieren in het circus.

Bron: Christian Nolens