Financial Times

February 11, 2013 6:36 pm

Spain gets into ring to protect bullfighting

By Miles Johnson in Madrid

Spain’s parliament is expected to declare bullfighting a protected national cultural pastime on Tuesday, stoking tensions with Catalonia where the sport is banned and raising questions about EU subsidies to the country’s struggling bull farmers.

The ruling centre right Popular party will urge lawmakers to back the measure, which could provide the legal basis to overrule existing bans on bullfighting in Catalonia and the Canary Islands.

Catalonia – the wealthy northern region that will hold areferendum on independence next year – staged its last bullfight in late 2011 after the region’s parliamentvoted to outlaw the sport . The Canary Islands banned the corrida in 1991.

Ahead of the vote the leftwing Catalan nationalist party Esquerra Republicana (ERC), which took second place in last year’s regional elections, has criticised what it argues are EU and Spanish government subsidies for rearing bulls, and for maintaining bullfighting rings across Spain.

“It is absolutely clear that the government wants to protect the funding of bullfighting across Spain, and to cancel whatever legislation is blocking it in Catalonia and the Canary Islands,” said Alfred Bosch, the spokesman for the ERC, which opposes the bill.

Currently Spanish farmers who use their land to cultivate fighting bulls receive EU subsidies under the Common Agricultural Policy, criticised by Catalan nationalist politicians as public funding of a sport they argue is cruel to animals.

The government’s move to reinforce the status of bullfighting comes as Spain’s bull rearing industry has come under economic pressure as a result of public spending cuts, which have forced town halls and councils to cut back on festivals featuring bullfights. Bullfighting lobbies argue that subsidies are crucial to keep the sport economically viable.

A report drafted by the ERC into public funding for bullfighting in Spain estimates that almost €130m of European funding is provided each year to farmers rearing bulls.

A spokeswoman for the European Commission said the payments were “decoupled” from farmers’ production, meaning there were no direct bullfighting subsidies being paid for from European funds.

In December a Danish member of the European Parliament asked the commission whether subsidy payments that aided bullfighting through agricultural support or through the renovation of bullrings were against EU laws protecting animal rights.

Figures from the Popular party have regularly declared their support for the right to stage bullfights across Spain, with prime minister Mariano Rajoy and education and culture minister José Ignacio Wert voicing their opposition to bans.

The motion to declare bullfighting a protected national pursuit – bien de interés cultural – was placed before Spain’s parliament after the Catalan Bullfighting Federation gathered over 500,000 signatures across the country.

The chairman of Spain’s parliamentary committee on culture, Juan Manual Albendea, a representative of the Popular party, said this month that he hoped the motion would allow bullfighting to return to Catalonia.