The decision came on the final day of the outgoing commission, headed by President Jose Manuel Barroso, who has been in office since 2004.
Its ruling said, in effect, that the current rules should remain since the European Parliament (E.P.) had recently agreed upon them, and they were therefore “appropriate.” As a result, the commission would not “submit a legislative proposal” on the matter.
Critics slammed the move both because the decision retains the current situation, but also because in their view it made a mockery of a process purportedly designed to improve participatory democracy in the 28-member union by giving ordinary citizens a say in lawmaking.
The tool known as the European citizens’ initiative (ECI), introduced in 2012, was touted as a major reform innovation. It set rigorous requirements: Organizers had a limited amount of time to garner at least one million signatures, including a proscribed minimum number from each of at least seven member-states.
The pro-life ECI, called “One of Us,” met the requisite national targets and in the end obtained more than 1.8 million signatures within the time allowed. It counted Pope Francis among its supporters.
Under ECI rules, the commission has three months to respond to an initiative that meets the requirements and decide on whether to submit a legislative proposal on the relevant issue to Euro-lawmakers.
The committee which organized the “One of Us” campaign slammed Wednesday’s announcement, describing the commission as “deaf” and saying it had made “a travesty” of what was intended to be “a real instrument of participative democracy.”
“Such veto power is illegitimate and anti-democratic since politically, it is the European legislature that may give a verdict on the content of the initiative, and not the commission, otherwise, the ECI mechanism would be meaningless,” it said in a statement.
“The commission wishes to continue financing non ethical and outdated biotechnological practices, as well as abortion in developing countries including countries where this is prohibited by criminal law.”
It said the case would likely be appealed before Europe’s highest court, the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, and also predicted that the new E.P. would take up the issue with the incoming commission.
European Dignity Watch, a pro-life organization based in Brussels, said although the commission was not obliged to follow through on the 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,” it said.
Last week parties opposed to the E.U. made significant gains in E.P. elections, a result widely seen as reflecting voter unhappiness with overbearing and – in the words of British Prime Minister David Cameron – “too big, too bossy” E.U. institutions.
‘Strict ethical rules’
The commission said the E.U. has since 2007 directed about $213 million in funding to research that involves the use of human embryonic stem cells (ESCs).
The current rules governing E.U. funding for ESC research, adopted in 2007, have three main requirements: projects must be legal in the countries where the research is taking place; projects must undergo scientific peer review and ethical review; and E.U. funding cannot be used to destroy human embryos.
E.U. Research Commissioner Maire Geoghegan-Quinn said the commission would continue to apply these “strict ethical rules and restrictions.” She also argued that the E.U. funded the research for a reason – because “embryonic stem cells are unique and offer the potential for life-saving treatments, with clinical trials already underway.”
Opponents of ESC research question the need to use cells from human embryos at all, pointing to non-controversial advances involving “adult” stem cells, originating from bone marrow, nasal passages, umbilical cords etc.; as well as “induced pluripotent” (iPS) cells – adult cells programmed to act like ESCs and to share their potential to grow into skin, bone, brain or nerve tissue.
ESC proponents continue to insist that cells from embryos are superior.
As far as abortion policy goes, in its response to the One of Us initiative, the commission said E.U. funding decisions are guided by the International Conference on Population and Development’s program of action, “which states that in no case should abortion be promoted as a method of family planning, that abortion care needs to take place in the legal context of each country, and that if not against the law, abortion should be performed in safe conditions.”
E.U. Development Commissioner Andris Piebalgs said in a statement E.U.-funded programs “aim to expand access to effective family-planning services, therefore preventing the need for abortions.”
A European Dignity Watch study in 2012 found that two of the world’s largest abortion providers, Marie Stopes and International and International Planned Parenthood Federation, are recipients of E.U. development funding.
A ban on E.U. funding for abortion would be roughly equivalent to the U.S. Mexico City Policy, a Reagan-era measure that prohibited federal funding for organizations that promote or perform abortions around the world.
The policy, which opponents call the “global gag rule,” was rescinded by President Clinton in 1993, restored by President Bush in 2001, and overturned again by President Obama in 2009.