What happened with the 8hours campaign? And even more importantly, what is going to happen with it?
When I ended my work as coordinator of 8hours on 4 June, many activities were under way, important events were scheduled in the 8hours calendar, and some incredible new developments promised to open up unexpected opportunities to finally bring to an end the tragedy of long-distance live transport in Europe.
What went right?
I would say that during my time as the 8hours coordinator, which began in April 2011, some important targets were achieved, and I am enormously grateful to the many colleagues who supported my work and to the countless organisations, citizens and politicians around Europe who made the campaign a priority in their work and voluntary activities.
In the two years up to April 2011, a total of 211,544 signatures had been collected for the 8hours petition – a respectable number, but far short of the original 1 million target. On 3 January 2012 we went past 1 million, and in June 2012 an amazing 1,103,248 signatures were handed in to the European Commissioner for Health.
When I started, the list of supportive Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) contained fewer than ten names. Now the names of over 140 supportive MEPs are listed on the 8hours website. Supporting animal welfare organisations had been present in 7 or 8 EU Member States. Now the 8hours website lists 114 organisations from 23 countries (22 EU Member States plus Switzerland).
In March 2012, the Written Declaration tabled in the European Parliament was adopted with the signatures of over 395 MEPs.
Previously, contacts with the European Commission in relation to 8hours had scarcely been in place, but since a meeting in March 2013 a proper dialogue had started after months of disagreement, which also led us to organise a conference in Malta to ask the then Commissioner, John Dalli, to comply with his promise to propose a review of the rules on live animal transport. When I left the coordination of 8hours, the proceedings of the Malta conference were ready for publication.
Meetings with important representatives of EU Member States’ competent ministries had started, and the first responses we received were more than promising.
In short, over the last couple of years 8hours had become the main animal welfare campaign in Europe. It was constantly making progress and broadening the support for a review of the existing Regulation on transport. A maximum 8-hour journey limit for animals sent for the purpose of slaughter was no longer a tantalising mirage, but was steadily becoming an achievable reality.
What went wrong?
Since 4 June, when I had to leave the coordination of 8hours, some unpleasant messages regarding me and my work have been circulated by Animals’ Angels, while 8hours seems to have dropped off the radar. All news about 8hours has disappeared from the Animals’ Angels website, and even on the 8hours website the last entry in the blog dates back to 3 June.
I don’t know what Animals’ Angels plan to do with 8hours, but I do know the time has come for me to offer my version of what happened to whoever is interested in reading it. I have made many attempts to salvage the situation and thereby avoid having to write and circulate this public explanation. However, not only does it seem that 8hours has been killed off by Animals’ Angels for no apparent reason, but various forms of harassment are continuing towards me: a payment for my work and expenses related to 8hours has been withheld, and I continue to receive insulting emails.
As an animal welfare consultant, my ability to work effectively depends to a large extent on the trust others place in me, and for this reason I cannot let false allegations go unchallenged. Therefore, for the first time in my life, I have resorted to discussing these matters with a lawyer because there seems to be no other way to stop the untrue and intolerable allegations made by Animals’ Angels, more specifically by its Director, Michael Blanke, and its Founder and President, Christa Blanke. It would be pointless for me to appeal to the Animals’ Angels board to stop these actions, because as far as I know that body is currently composed of Christa and Michael Blanke themselves (both also paid by the organisation) and their son, Christopher. Even if the latter wished to discuss these matters (I have no idea if he does), Christa and Michael would always have a majority to endorse their own behaviour.
As I have stated numerous times to Michael Blanke by email over the last few weeks and to other members of staff by email and over the phone, I simply want all my contacts with Animals’ Angels to end for good. This could easily be achieved by stopping the distribution of any malicious messages about me or my work, and by paying an overdue invoice. That unpaid invoice initially lay forgotten on some desk in Frankfurt (a more recent invoice has been paid) and is currently being used to exert unjustifiable pressure on me now that I am no longer working with Animals’ Angels. At first I was told the invoice had been processed and then that someone was dealing with it. After 6 weeks during which, as a matter of courtesy, I continued to answer additional information requests from Animals’ Angels even though I was no longer being paid by them, I learnt that in fact the overdue invoice had never been processed, but instead had been kept there all that time, perhaps with the intention of using it to put pressure on me. Justice, fairness and honesty are what NGOs are fighting for, right?
I hope this will be the final chapter in this sorry saga in which the interests of the animals we all claim to care about are being tragically neglected. If this turns out not be the end of the matter, I will respond on this website to any further derogatory messages circulated by Animals’ Angels and I will publish excerpts of emails which will make it clear to everyone where the truth lies.
This article is already fairly long, so I have decided to omit some details which would lend further support to my account. However, these additional details – and supporting documentation – will be included in future articles if Animals’ Angels circulate further derogatory messages about me. These articles will be regularly flagged up on the AnimalWelfareAndTrade Facebook page, on the @sansolini Twitter page, and in the AnimalWelfareAndTrade Newsletter too.
Why did I have to leave 8hours?
It has been a huge disappointment to see the 8hours campaign undermined by its own sponsors at such a crucial stage, but I found myself in a bizarre situation in which the more 8hours achieved, the more Christa Blanke saw me and the campaign itself as enemies or competitors. And yet Animals’ Angels was paying all the expenses of the campaign – including my fees – so they must have been happy with my work (‘they’ meaning Christa and Michael, who have total control over the organisation).
In every work relationship there are some things you like and others you dislike. Discussions and disagreements are quite normal. But there should also be courtesy, honesty and an ability to acknowledge mistakes, and when agreements are made they should be respected.
Sadly, over the last six months we gradually got to a point where my work was constantly under attack and I started to receive insulting emails. Important institutional contacts and crucial initiatives were in danger of being irretrievably undermined, and so were the hopes that animals would be spared the suffering of long-distance transport.
Powerful European lobbies had tried and failed to undermine the 8hours campaign over the last couple of years, but now the threat was emerging from within. After months of tension, I had no choice but to leave the coordination of the campaign in the hands of the person – Christa Blanke – who had come to consider herself its coordinator, despite what she and her husband had approved at the end of January 2013 regarding the Head of 8hours: “that’s you, Adolfo. You will have to take on the responsibility for most of 8hours blood, sweat, toil and tears – and of course rewards. You will have to carry the campaign without substantial help from Frankfurt, or from us. We know that you are capable of this and we respect you a lot for it”.
Those lines are part of the shortened version of the 2013 Plan for 8hours, which took several weeks to agree while most 8hours activities were kept on hold, including some institutional contacts. Yet more time was spent reducing the 13-page plan – approved by Michael Blanke on his and Christa’s behalf and shared with colleagues – to a 3-page version for Michael and Christa’s use only.
Early 2013 was an especially busy period for me: I was drafting the 2013 Plan, continuing to coordinate 8hours, and setting up a joint Animals’ Angels – AnimalWelfareAndTrade office in London. On 24 January I suddenly received a request from the Animals’ Angels office in Frankfurt to attach an hour-by-hour report of my activities to all my future invoices, because that was what German law required for payments to consultants. I found that request very unusual, and I had certainly never been asked to do anything like that for other organisations, but nevertheless I immediately responded positively. Forty minutes later, I was asked to extend that hourly breakdown to the previous six months too, which would involve going through all my emails and phone bills to remind myself whom I was talking or writing to at any particular time. I agreed to that request too, merely asking what the deadline would be for this time-consuming piece of work. 8 March was the answer.
On 25 January I submitted a sample report relating to the first days of the previous 6 months to check that it was satisfactory. For a single day, the following activities were listed: “Preparation of Malta conference, including web registration issues; Drafting of conference press release and call for press conference; Contacts with EU Commission in relation to Dalli’s acceptance of our invitation, Times of Malta for updated advert, MEPs, NGOs, conference speakers, potential employee for London office; Contacts in view of September lobby activities and 8hours MEP meeting; Conference budget issues”.
On 7 February Michael Blanke insisted that I had to present a more detailed report, saying that Animals’ Angels “will have all sorts of problems if you do not specify more”. In fact, he went even further than before, saying that for the future “a breakdown to half hours will do, quarter hours are even better”! Every 15 minutes? What would be the point of such a report? It would not explain anything about my activities, but merely list ‘calls to w or x’, ‘email to y or z’, with no meaningful details.
On 12 February I sent Michael a proposal for reporting which I have used with several other organisations over the years, which describes activities chapter by chapter, makes it possible to reference relevant documents, and provides a way to both check progress and share information with other staff if necessary. On 28 February I was asked to send the same template to another member of staff, and it all died there. On 25 May I sent it again to Christa Blanke, who said that nobody had sent it to her at the time, and asked me to adapt it for 8hours. Was it the tax office I had to inform about my activities every 15 minutes, or Christa? Who knows. Incidentally, by the time I left nobody had yet responded to my alternative proposal based on activity reports rather than random names. Meanwhile, even the requirement for hourly reports ended when I started invoicing on behalf of Animal Welfare And Trade Ltd.
Although I had no alternative but to leave, it would have been my wish to do so in the fastest and least dramatic way possible, so as to allow Christa – who in a message of 5 June wrote, “I am the boss of Animals’ Angels and the boss of the 8 hours [sic] campaign” – to organise 8hours in the way she wanted.
In the days before 4 June, I asked Christa to explain her derogatory messages about my work, which had even been circulated to new members of staff who had never met me or been involved in any 8hours-related activities. No explanation was ever received, and the insults did not stop there.
The final straw was a message concerning a proposal Christa and I had jointly made to a senior representative of a key EU government, in which a Ministry official agreed to organise a conference with the aim of analysing problems arising from the establishment of a journey limit on the transport of animals sent for the purpose of slaughter in the EU, and of identifying solutions so that the existing Regulation on transport could be reviewed and such a time limit included in it. It was a remarkable turning point in the campaign, and a golden opportunity that should have been grasped with both hands. But when I forwarded Christa the message from the Ministry and suggested that I could translate it for her over the phone, I received a response that I should submit a written summary instead, so that Michael and a recently-hired member of staff could read it, adding: “I think you should not fix any dates or meetings until you have spoken with Michael in Frankfurt” (this refers to a meeting due to take place two weeks later to discuss the progress of the office we had opened in London).
After two hours I sent the translation of the text, with my own comments and additional information to emphasise how exceptional this government’s response was. In the same email, I asked how I could possibly say ‘no’ to an invitation from the Ministry for a meeting about our own proposal without undermining the project. The relevant Member State had already been identified as a priority country for the 8hours campaign, the proposal had been internally discussed before sending it, and now that we had received a positive answer we could not afford to show less enthusiasm than the Ministry itself. I then told Christa that if there were new issues I was not aware of, we should discuss them urgently over the phone, and that stopping the development of the agreed strategy at such a crucial moment could cause great harm to the campaign.
Christa’s refusal to talk to me and the growing tension between us required a quick response. What was going on? Why were things that had been agreed only a few days before being questioned now, especially when this jeopardised our credibility with important institutional partners?
This is the reply I received from Christa the following morning:
“Dear Adolfo, this seems to be good news. Nevertheless I must insist that you put all activities on hold, until I have received the following information:
• detailed project plan re the described conferences – items only, no description
• evaluation of this project re the aim to get the 8 hours – not longer than half a page
• detailed cost plan of the described conferences and related work
When I have received this, I will decide whether Animals’ Angels will take this project on or not and let you know. Until then you have no authority to proceed and Animals’ Angels will not cover any costs without my approval of your activities. I understand that this regrettably differs from practices in the past, but I feel the responsibility towards Animals’ Angels statutes, ethics and donators to organize the activities re 8 hours more professionally or stop it altogether.
Best regards, Christa.
Founder and President Animals’ Angels”
It was a surreal situation. I held in my hands the proposal that Christa and I had co-signed, which had now been approved by the Ministry. Basically, we had issued a proposal and a governmental body had accepted it, but now we suddenly needed a new internal evaluation before moving forward!
My reply, sent 4 hours later, was as follows (excerpts):
With immediate effect, I am suspending all my activities for 8hours and Animals’ Angels. I tried to get in touch with Michael over the phone before sending this email, since according to your instructions he is the person I am supposed to talk to in relation to work/contractual issues, but I could only leave messages on his voicemails.
It is impossible to work with constant changes of plans, especially when this involves damaging 8hours’ credibility and reputation with people I am in touch with in governments, NGOs and within Animals’ Angels.
The plans for the events proposed to [X] were discussed with you and received your inputs and approval before sending them (your emails of 17 and 18 April). The level of definition of the project to date corresponds to our proposal, as per [X]’s reply.
How this fits into 8hours has been discussed and agreed over months, sometimes leaving all activities on hold until an agreement on the 2013 Plan was reached. This is contained in the 13 pages agreed at the beginning of this year, and sent to all relevant staff on 4 February with your signature, Michael’s and mine. As you know, there is also a reduced 3-page version of it, which you and Michael asked me to prepare and which was agreed on 31 January. Nevertheless, we discussed this issue again when I was drafting the proposals for [X].
I have been repeatedly asked to decrease the level of reporting, then suddenly information is no longer sufficient and I am happy to integrate it as much as you like whenever it is desired. I have done it many times and as you know I am happy to send detailed information on all activities conducted for 8hours [...]. As you know, on your request I am also adapting for 8hours the draft report template I sent to [...] on 28 February and of which you received a copy on 24 May. As requested, I am filling it with recent information related to 8hours so you can evaluate if this template works for you. Being in the middle of many activities with Parliament, Commission and Member States – of which you have been constantly informed, often asking to receive less information, e.g. your email of 23 April – this is taking a few more days (it was requested last Friday, before the Monday UK bank holiday and my trip to Dublin) but I hoped that it could constitute a plausible solution to an issue that we have been discussing so many times and with conflicting instructions.
Now, despite what was agreed in the 2013 Plan (see last point of the reduced version), and confirmed both in successive conversations and emails, it is clear that my role as the 8hours coordinator no longer is something you are happy with, since agreed plans are constantly re-discussed once we get to an advanced point of implementation (e.g. lobby efforts, meeting with the Commissioner, Malta proceedings, meetings with CVOs and ministers, etc).
I find particularly serious the allegation that the activities related to 8hours have not been conducted in a sufficiently professional way and I would like you to substantiate that claim since this is the first time I hear of it, and no specific issue has been raised either in your email or elsewhere in relation to the quality of my work.
Also, it’s at least the second time that (this time less directly) references to the fact that money spent for my work or 8hours in general is possibly wasted. As you know, when you called me three years ago I decided autonomously to reduce my fee by 30% after you said you were fine with the full fee, and since then I have declined many times your offers to increase it, so it has constantly stayed at the same level since then. Every single penny spent for 8hours has been reported for, and a basic analysis of where we were when I took over the coordination of the campaign and where we are now is enough to see what has changed for 8hours in terms of importance among the general public, European NGOs, MEPs, European Commission and now gradually Member States.
As usual, I am happy to discuss things further – we all have everybody’s phone numbers, or we can use Skype or else – but until a clear decision is reached my role is suspended. Clearly we also have a meeting scheduled for 13 June, where we can add to the agenda issues related to 8hours, rather than focusing on the evaluation of the London office only, but in my opinion freezing activities for ten days would not be in the interest of the animals, since we need to respond quickly to some requests by institutions and others.
The message I will ask [...] to convey until a decision is made is that I am currently unavailable, without providing further details. This in my opinion leaves space for the broadest possible spectrum of outcomes of our discussion.
Last but not least. Dear [...], I am sorry for copying you in, as you have just started and I appreciate that all this can sound quite confusing and worrying for you, but since you received the previous message which described my work in pretty objectionable terms I could not avoid sending you the answer too.
Early the following morning (5 June), Christa replied as follows:
I accept your suspense of all activities for Animals’ Angels for the time being.
I suggest that you consider the impact on your reputation, if you leave the 8 hours campaign for good.
I am prepared to consider further cooperation, but only according to certain rules, which have to be observed at all times and are actually quite ordinary in the professional world.
I am the boss of Animals’ Angels and the boss of the 8 hours campaign and I wish to be treated with due respect and consideration.
This mail is an attempt in blackmail and I will pretend it did not happen. But never ever try this again.
Founder and President Animals’ Angels”
Both Christa and Michael avoided speaking to me, so other people tried to act as messenger between us. I even offered to take over the 8hours campaign as AnimalWelfareAndTrade. I would personally have paid for the tickets to attend a number of upcoming important meetings, and would have started asking the supporting organisations to fund the campaign, since I would have lost my main contractor. My proposal sprang from conversations held some weeks earlier, when Christa had suggested that I should start exploring what other organisation might take over 8hours, because Animals’ Angels wanted to give it away.
On 6 June, I was told that Christa had agreed to the offer I had made, and I simply asked for a couple of lines in writing to confirm this, so that I could start arranging meetings and contact groups to explore funding possibilities. Knowing how often Christa and Michael had changed their minds, I wanted some protection from sudden U-turns before proceeding. This was refused. I even drafted a provisional contract to facilitate this process, but to no avail.
Having several meetings lined up and not feeling I could keep everyone on hold for at least another ten days as requested by Christa, I prepared a message announcing that I was no longer the coordinator of 8hours and that people should therefore contact Christa instead. We could not possibly leave government and Commission officials waiting. Part of the success of a campaign like 8hours is based on prompt, reliable and clear responses, and anything different from that can undermine it.
On 7 June I received a quick call from Michael Blanke, who said he only had two minutes to talk and that I had his word that I could continue to use the 8hours name until the meeting in Frankfurt the following week. I asked again for a brief email confirmation of Animals’ Angels’ intention to hand over the 8hours campaign to AnimalWelfareAndTrade, because the last official message I had in writing was from Christa on 5 June, stating: “all activities re 8 hours are on hold for the moment, for […] as well as for Adolfo”. That written confirmation was refused too, and since there was no way I could rely on another vague reassurance over the phone, I told Michael that I was going to circulate the communication regarding the end of my role as 8hours coordinator, asking people to contact his wife if they had any urgent enquiries. Michael asked me to refer people to his email address instead, and I agreed to do so. That might have been the end of the matter if further derogatory messages had not been circulated and payments withheld for no reason at all.
On 7 June I circulated the following message:
I am writing to inform you that [...] and I are no longer working for Animals’ Angels nor represent 8hours.
Please direct all your future communications related to 8hours to Michael Blanke, Director of Animals’ Angels, at [Michael Blanke’s email].
Both [...] and I wish to thank you all for the amazing work done together to end long-distance live animal transport in Europe, and we wish our best for all your future activities and endeavours.
Some of you are long-standing friends, while others have become closer during our work for 8hours. In either case, if you want to remain in touch in the future please contact us at [Adolfo’s email] or [...].
Thank you again for all your support,
So what next?
What Christa and Michael Blanke have done and failed to do since they have been in sole charge of 8hours is for them to explain.
I hope this article has answered the question, ‘What happened with the 8hours campaign?’ The more important question – ‘What is it going to happen with it?’ – must now be answered by Animals’ Angels. Christa has finally had her opportunity to “organize the activities re 8 hours [sic] more professionally”, and I for one have not noticed any great progress in the campaign since 4 June. If progress is not made, Christa and Michael will no doubt absolve their own actions as two thirds of the Animals’ Angels board, while transported animals will continue to suffer unnecessarily for many years to come.
It’s not the first time that a campaign – on animal welfare or rights, human rights or environmental issues – has been destroyed from the inside, and sadly it won’t be the last. As usual, nobody will be held accountable for the opportunities missed in what over the last two years had become the main animal welfare campaign in Europe.
I hope that Christa and Michael will stop feeling the need to wage yet another war against former collaborators who just want to carry on working on behalf of animals instead of wasting time with infighting or even legal battles. I am pretty sure that most of the people who give their money to Animals’ Angels would agree.
Please feel free to ask Animals’ Angels for their version of what happened and for news on what is happening with 8hours now. As much as I would like to forget about this unpleasant situation, I nevertheless make myself available to respond publicly to any further developments in the future.