Today, May 28, the outgoing Commission illegitimately and anti-democratically vetoed the European Citizens’ Initiative, “One of Us”, which calls for a ban of EU funding of embryo-destructive research.
Introduced by the Treaty of Lisbon, European Citizens’ Initiatives (ECI) were conceived as a mechanism to facilitate democratic participation by empowering European citizens to ask the European Commission to introduce specific legislative proposals. The “One of Us” initiative exceeded the requirement of 1 million supporters, obtaining 1.7 million signatures, and is the biggest ECI in the history of the European Union.
Although the European Commission is under no obligation to follow requests made through an ECI, it makes a fool of itself if it shoots down a democratically backed request that is in line with European law. However, the Commission chose to ignore the demand of almost two million citizens by rejecting the most successful ECI ever and preferred to impose its own political will. Thus, the entire ECI mechanism becomes a farce. This is precisely what has happened today with “One of Us”.
During a public hearing at the European Parliament on April 10, the different committees responsible for the analysis of the “One of Us” initiative highlighted its clear legal construction,...
...and sound petitions and argumentation under European law procedures. There was also broad support of MEPs from almost all political groups represented in Parliament. Furthermore, over a year ago, the European Commission itself had confirmed that the request to ban EU funding of embryo-destructive research, as formulated in the legal proposal of “One of Us”, was in line with European law — and, thus, admissible as an ECI.
With nearly 2 million signatures, the “One of Us” initiative has the highest degree of democratic legitimacy of all ECIs so far. Nevertheless, the Commission has today issued a veto that completely ignores the very purpose of the request and ridicules the democratic process.
A veto without arguments
The “One of Us” initiative, having called attention to the lack of consistency between the high ethical standards of the European Court of Justice and the European Commission’s practice of funding embryo-destructive research under its framework programme, “Horizon 2020”, wants to ensure that the EU research budget no longer be used to finance projects that involve or pre-suppose the destruction of human embryos. It thus requests modifications to the EU's Financial Regulation and the Horizon 2020 Framework Program.
The Commission today turned down this request. But it provided no legal arguments to justify its veto. The Commission states in its press release “that the Horizon 2020 provisions on human embryonic stem cell research are in full accordance with the EU Treaties and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union”. In the view of the Commission, this provides sufficient cause to reject the most widely supported petition tabled in the history of European democracy.
In the European Commission’s words: “The Horizon 2020 provisions on human embryonic stem cell research have only recently been decided by the EU co-legislator (in December 2013)”. There is no assessment — or even acknowledgement — of the obvious contradictions between the funding of embryo-destructive research and the European Court of Justice’s clear statement that the human embryo is an organism “capable of commencing the process of development of a human being”. This includes the human embryo from conception onwards and entitles him with the same rights as any other human being.
Regarding development aid, the aim of “One of Us” is to raise ethical standards, through modifications to the EU's Financial Regulation and the Regulation establishing a financing instrument for development cooperation, thereby liberating funds for better and more consistent development aid. Such modifications would ensure that the EU’s development budget would not be used to finance abortions in developing countries, even where illegal - an outrage which has been shown and proven to be taking place in the European Dignity Watch Report, "The Funding of Abortion through EU Development Aid".
But again, the Commission’s response has been inconsistent: “While the objective of EU development cooperation is universal and equitable access to good quality care for all citizens, the EU fully respects the sovereign decisions of partner countries as to which healthcare services will be provided and how they are packaged as long as they are in line with agreed human rights principles”. In other words, the Commission takes it as given that EU development aid is paying for abortions and, what is worse, that abortion practices are “in line with agreed human rights principles”. With the veto, “[t]he Commission wishes to continue financing non ethical and outdated biotechnological practices, as well as abortion in developing countries”, according to a press release from the “One of Us” Citizens’ Committee.
But the Commission’s veto does not end the battle. As this ECI has the responsibility to ask for a more ethical and democratic Europe, the decision of the Commission is likely to be taken to the Court of Luxembourg — which, in turn, has recognized the respect for human life from the moment of conception.
Thankfully, a new European Parliament has been elected and a new Commission will be appointed. It is time to continue ensuring the protection of — and respect for — each “One of Us”.