Belgian bans on the ritual slaughter of animals practiced by Jews and Muslims risk painting these minorities as “medieval” communities with no respect for animal life, the EU’s top official tasked with fighting anti-Semitism across Europe said.
Since 2019, citing concerns about animal welfare, the Belgian regions of Flanders and Wallonia have outlawed the killing of animals without pre-stunning, practiced by religious Jews and Muslims to ensure they can eat ritually pure kosher or halal meat.
“The discussion itself puts the Jews and also the Muslims in this case into a corner of ‘you do harm to animals, or you are medieval,” said Katharina von Schnurbein, during an interview with POLITICO on Wednesday, at the European Jewish Community Center in Brussels.
The bans were challenged by religious groups but upheld by the Court of Justice of the EU in late 2020, in a surprising decision that said EU countries could restrict no-stun slaughter to promote animal welfare, without infringing religious rights, even though EU law explicitly provides an exemption for religious slaughter. Bans are permissible provided countries do not contravene the EU’s charter of fundamental human rights, the court ruled.
“In some countries, we have seen also that this was only the start, and then the discussion about circumcision was next,” von Schnurbein said.
Religious groups fear the ruling will pave the way for more bans across Europe, but it is “difficult to say” if other EU countries will follow suit, she said. EU countries like Sweden, Slovenia, Denmark and Austria had already placed restrictions on religious slaughter before Belgium’s move.
But von Schnurbein also said that although the European Commission is bound by the legal ruling, “many” other EU countries could find a different balance between animal welfare and religious freedoms, and uphold the derogation to allow the practice.
“What we want is to see that Jews feel they can live their lives in accordance to their religious and cultural traditions,” she said.
Speaking just before the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which falls annually on January 27, she encouraged countries like Sweden and Estonia to correctly transpose a 2008 EU measure into their national laws that will ensure that publicly condoning, denying or trivializing genocides like the Holocaust and other kinds of hate speech are treated as a crime.
The Commission has already launched infringements proceedings against 13 EU countries, which had not correctly adopted the law. Estonia, Sweden, Bulgaria, Poland and Finland, for instance, had not properly transposed part of the law related to genocide hate speech, and thus to the Holocaust.
Asked if she foresaw more infringement cases, von Schnurbein said: “Sweden is now changing the law, the Netherlands are changing the law. This is really the idea. We don’t want to go on to court, we want to see a change of legislation.” She also urged countries to stick to their pledge to draft national strategies on fighting anti-Semitism by the end of the year.
Von Schnurbein, a German official who is not Jewish herself, has been in her post since 2015. Two people have held the position of anti-Islamophobia coordinator within the same period, but this post has now been empty since last July when the contract expired for the last person in the role, Tommaso Chiamparino.