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IP/03/262

Brussels, 19 February 2003

Travelling with pets: simplified EU system approved

Agreement was reached yesterday in the conciliation committee between the European Parliament and Council on a new system that will pave the way for pet owners to travel more easily within the European Union with their domestic pets. Parliament and Council are expected to give their formal approval shortly, which will allow the Regulation to enter into force.

Welcoming the agreement on the proposed Regulation, David Byrne, the Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection, said: "This is excellent news for pet owners like myself. Today marks a significant step towards harmonisation of the rules governing the movement of pets within the EU, a step that was made possible by dramatic advances made in our fight against rabies. Rabies is now close to having been totally eradicated from the EU."

Cats and dogs travelling within the EU

For movements of pets between Member States other than Ireland, Sweden and the United Kingdom, valid rabies vaccination will be the sole requirement for travel across borders. An electronic microchip (or a tattoo for a transitory period of 8 years) will allow for easy identification of the animals. Additionally, an EU-passport will facilitate the veterinary checks. Young pets which cannot be vaccinated yet, may be allowed to travel without vaccination. The same rule will apply to neighbouring third countries where the rabies status matches that of the EU e.g. Switzerland and Norway.

For the entry of animals into Ireland, Sweden or the United Kingdom, antibody titration(1) will need to be carried out after the vaccination.

Cats and dogs travelling from third countries

The agreement also reinforces the strict rules applying to cats and dogs entering the EU from third countries, to guard against the risk of rabies. For countries where rabies is endemic, vaccination and testing three months before movement will be required for entry into Member States other than Ireland, Sweden and the United Kingdom where quarantine will be maintained in the case of direct movement. In the case of third countries free of rabies (or where the disease is under control) vaccination will be the only requirement (except for Ireland, Sweden and the United Kingdom where a test six months after vaccination will be required before the pet may enter those countries).

Full harmonisation of the pet movement rules may happen after a five-year transitional period that will apply to Ireland, Sweden and the United Kingdom. After that time, new proposals will be made in the light of experience of the new system, the rabies status of the EU at that time and expert scientific advice.

Progress in this sensitive area has been very difficult in the past. The background to today's breakthrough stems from the spectacular success over the past decade of efforts to eradicate rabies within the Union. Vaccination programmes for foxes in EU regions where the disease still occurred have led to a drop in rabies cases among household pets: from 499 in 1991 to 7 in 2001. The fight against rabies must continue to stamp it out and keep it out.

Background

The Agriculture Council reached a common position on the proposal in June 2002. However, final approval by the European Parliament and Council proved elusive due to disagreement on a few amendments. The most difficult point to resolve concerned an amendment to introduce the co-decision procedure for the eventual decision to be taken on whether or not to extend the special regime for the UK, Ireland and Sweden beyond 2008. Final agreement on this point was reached through the conciliation procedure, concluded on 18 February. It was concluded that the co-decision procedure will be used and the other contentious amendments have been dropped, paving the way for final approval of the Regulation.

Next steps

The outcome will now be submitted for formal approval to the European Parliament and the Council. Following their approval, the Regulation can become law. It will enter into force on the twentieth day following its publication in the Official Journal and is applicable one year after entering into force.

(1) a test to see if the vaccine has been effective


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