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European Citizens' Initiative: European Commission replies to 'One of Us'

European Commission - IP/14/608   28/05/2014

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European Commission

Press release

Brussels, 28 May 2014

European Citizens' Initiative: European Commission replies to 'One of Us'

The European Commission has today replied to the European Citizens' Initiative (ECI) 'One of Us'. After having met with the organisers of the initiative and studied their request, the Commission has decided not to submit a legislative proposal, given that Member States and the European Parliament have only recently discussed and decided EU policy in this regard. The 'One of Us' initiative had asked the EU to end the financing of activities which presuppose the destruction of human embryos, in particular in the areas of research, development aid and public health. The organisers of the initiative had collected more than the requisite one million signatures from at least seven EU Member States after registering their proposal. The organisers met with the Commission on 9th April (STATEMENT/14/115) and then had a public hearing in the European Parliament on 10th April. The Commission has concluded that the existing funding framework, which was recently debated and agreed by EU Member States and the European Parliament, is the appropriate one.

Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science, said: "We have engaged with this Citizens' Initiative and given its request all due attention. However, Member States and the European Parliament agreed to continue funding research in this area for a reason. Embryonic stem cells are unique and offer the potential for life-saving treatments, with clinical trials already underway. The Commission will continue to apply the strict ethical rules and restrictions in place for EU-funded research, including that we will not fund the destruction of embryos.”

EU Commissioner for Development, Andris Piebalgs, said: "European Citizens' Initiatives allow people to participate directly in the development of EU policies and we pay great attention to them. Pregnancy and childbirth-related complications are still today the cause of death of too many women. That is why the international community included a specific target to reduce maternal mortality and achieve universal access to reproductive health as one of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The EU, its Member States and other international donors are working hard to achieve this and have made this, and health more generally speaking, a priority. Our development programmes in this area aim to expand access to effective family-planning services, therefore preventing the need for abortions".

Research involving human Embryonic Stem Cells (hESC)

The European Commission applies a detailed 'triple lock' system with regards to any research involving human Embryonic Stem Cells (hESC), a system which the Commission considers in full accordance with the EU Treaties and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. The system - which already applied in the previous EU research programme – was agreed by EU Member States and the European Parliament in the context of approving Horizon 2020 legislation in 2013. The rules are:

  • National legislation is respected – EU projects must follow the laws of the country in which the research is carried out.

  • All projects must be scientifically validated by peer review and must undergo rigorous ethical review.

  • EU funds may not be used for derivation of new stem cell lines, or for research that destroys embryos - including for the procurement of human embryonic stem cells.

The European Commission does not explicitly set out to fund research involving human embryonic stem cells. Rather, the Commission funds research into treatment for diseases or healthcare challenges, for instance therapies for Parkinson´s disease and Huntington´s disease, or diabetes. Research may involve human embryonic stem cells if these are part of the best project proposals. Between 2007 and 2013, the EU has funded 27 collaborative projects in health research involving the use of human embryonic stem cells, with an EU budget contribution of €156.7 million. Total health research spending in the same time period was around €6 billion.

EU assistance on health in developing countries

Development cooperation in the area of maternal and child health is guided by:

  • the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), addressing global poverty, include one specific target to reduce maternal mortality by three quarters by 2015 and achieve universal access to reproductive health.

  • the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Programme 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.

Priorities of EU funding in the area of health are decided together with the government of the partner countries, with a focus on improving and increasing access to their national health systems. The EU spent €3.2 billion of development funds on the health sector between 2008 and 2012. Of this, €1.5 billion were spent on maternal, new-born, and child-health, €87 million went to reproductive health care and €17 million to family planning.

The Development Cooperation Instrument (DCI) is one of the main EU financing instruments for development aid. It provides bilateral support to developing countries not covered by the European Development Fund and thematic support to all partner countries on priority themes such as human rights, democracy and good governance, inclusive and sustainable growth. In addition to the impact assessment and other internal evaluations, the Commission held in 2010-2011 a public consultation on future funding for EU external action. The DCI Regulation was adopted on March 2014 after ratification from the European Parliament and the European Council. The DCI will receive an allocation of €19.7 billion from the EU budget for the period 2014-2020.

Background

European Citizens' Initiatives (ECI) were launched in April 2012 as an agenda-setting tool in the hands of citizens. An ECI allows 1 million citizens from at least one quarter of EU Member States to invite the European Commission to take action in areas where the Commission has the power to do so.

The so-called Brüstle judgement of the European Court of Justice (Case C-34/10) was referred to by the organisers when presenting their case. However, the Court noted in that ruling which concerned the Biotech Directive (98/44/EC), that the purpose of the European legislation in question is not to regulate the use of human embryos in the context of scientific research; the ruling was limited to the patentability of biotechnological inventions and did not deal with the question of whether such research can be carried out and whether it can be funded.

More information

MEMO/14/385

Link to Communication: http://ec.europa.eu/research/eci/one-of-us_en.html

European Citizens' Initiative website:

http://ec.europa.eu/citizens-initiative/public/welcome

One of Us website: http://www.oneofus.eu/

Contacts :

Michael Jennings (+32 2 296 33 88) Twitter: @ECSpokesScience

Alexandre Polack (+32 2 299 06 77)

Monika Wcislo (+32 2 295 56 04)

Maria Sanchez Aponte (+32 2 298 10 35)


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