The Hague – The Animal Party in The Hague celebrates its anniversary. The party has been in The Hague City Council for 12.5 years this month. In March 2010, Marieke de Groot was the first animal party chancellor in The Hague. I moved to another group and others took over. The party now has three seats and the Animals Party is briefly in the picture as a coalition partner. A conversation with current party chairman Robert Parker. “Initially we were laughed at when we asked questions about animal welfare.”
You’ve been touring Animals Party in The Hague since 2014. How did you get involved politically?
I saw that we treat animals very poorly in the livestock industry. But animals and nature reserves are also under pressure in the city. That’s why I became politically active. I want to improve the world.
How logical is it to have a party for the animals in a big city like The Hague?
Very logical. In the city, we naturally have to deal with the question of how to tackle the climate and nitrogen crisis, especially with the Natura 2000 dunes protected areas in our municipality. There are a lot of themes present in the city that are important to nature and animals.
Was the Party for the Animals necessary 12.5 years ago to make everyone aware of this or did these themes also play a role in other parties?
Both nationally and locally, the Animal Party has made people more aware of how we treat nature. How do we deal with trees, for example? These are also places where animals live. By constantly drawing attention to these kinds of topics, awareness increases and better policy is eventually made.
Where do you notice that people are becoming more aware of nature and animals?
In discussions, it is no longer surprising when politicians ask how many trees are cut down during construction projects or what the consequences are for nature or the species of animals that are protected. At first, these kinds of questions were ridiculed, but now more and more people are taking them seriously. More is needed to improve the way we engage with Earth and nature, but things are moving in the right direction.
In October 2010, the Animal Party submitted a proposal to scrap the live nativity scene, which depicts real animals and the homeless, in the foyer of City Hall. Incidentally, SP, GroenLinks, Haagse Stadspartij and PVV were working hard to stop this tradition before the Animal Party arrived. According to the Parties, transporting animals from Brabant to The Hague daily for nine days was not unsuitable for animals. The majority of council members eventually supported this position. In February 2011, Alderman Sander Decker (VVD) drew a line during the live nativity scene.
How do you look back to the abolition of the Grotto of the Living Cradle?
I think a lot of people are now thinking: How did we have a nativity scene with live animals and homeless? This is really no longer from this time. But in reality that was no longer possible 12.5 years ago.
Has the zeitgeist changed because of the Party of Animals, or did time itself do its job?
In any case, a movement appeared to deal with the land better. Climate protests and discussion about nitrogen show this. But we are one of the drivers of that movement. We always draw attention to better treatment of the environment and animals. You can see that in something like a live nativity scene, but also in our opposition to the use of parrots on Scheveningen Street. From now on, you must apply for a permit to use animals for the entertainment of people.
Balloons are no longer allowed, and the lavish bathroom can no longer be used for weddings. Isn’t the Animal Party over-care for us?
I think tradition is not set in stone and you have to ask yourself every time if it is justified from an ethical and animal welfare standpoint. We do not ban balloons, but we ban their release, because they pollute nature and animals can suffocate in the plastic. There are many reasons why you would not like it and the proposal won a majority in the city council.
In the fall of 2019, the city council adopted the “Sustainable Food: Rising” initiative proposal from the Party for Animals. The plan includes proposals to achieve a “protein transition” whereby more plant food is eaten and therefore sustainable food is eaten. The municipality will ideally play a role in this and should provide vegetarian and vegan meals at lunches, drinks, events and in the company canteen. On occasions, vegetarian becomes the norm, with a choice of fish and meat.
The Animal Party also ensured that the show in the company canteen has changed, right?
Thanks to our initiative, vegan is the norm. Meat is available as an option, but there are also plenty of vegetarian and vegan offerings in the canteen and at events. In fact, there have been many discussions on this topic, but this is better for animal welfare and tackling the climate crisis.
But a lot of people want to decide for themselves what to eat, right?
This is also possible, because there are other options left. We believe that the municipality should set a good example and focus more on more sustainable food. We’ve seen that there are no vegetarian options in the canteen or at municipal parties, which is a bad example. It has now been reversed.
Is it a good example from the point of view of the animal party and not, for example, of the protesting farmers?
In the Netherlands, the focus has always been on economies of scale and increased livestock. As a result, we ended up in the current situation. But this increase in scale is undesirable for nature, climate and therefore the future of farmers. This is why it is important to focus on more plant foods and less meat. The municipality should play a role in this. As a Party for the Animals, we advocate not only for personal responsibility, but also for a clear government that sets the rules.
Shouldn’t the party animal even go to college? You had this opportunity in the last formation.
We’d love to talk about a new lecture, but it was never a realistic option in The Hague. For us, the starting point is that a real green incremental agreement will be reached, and the parties we had to sit with are not at all. The coalition agreement before us now proves this, simply because it is not green and progressive. The Animals Party participates in Amersfoort, Arnhem and Groningen.
In one sentence: What has the Party of Animals meant for The Hague over the past 12.5 years?
We have ensured that The Hague is becoming more sustainable, greener and more animal-friendly. But it must be better.
Since the summer of 2020, an alderman, civil servants and employees of The Hague are no longer allowed to travel to cities that can be reached by train within eight hours. Then the municipal council adopted the initiative proposal “sustainable business trips”. I’m going on a trip and I’m going to catch a train from an animal party. From now on, drivers and officials will have to take the train to cities like London, Paris and Berlin. This will save thousands of kilograms of carbon dioxide, according to the Animal Party.