Commission rejects citizens' campaign to ban stem cell funding
By Benjamin Fox
The European Commission has dismissed a campaign to scrap funding for stem cell research and reproductive health services.
The demand was made by the 'One of Us' campaign, the second citizens' initiative to reach the 1 million signatures required under the Lisbon treaty.
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The campaign, which has been backed by Popes Francis and Benedict, the current and former heads of the Catholic church, and backed by a number of religious organisations, sought to ban the use of EU funds for research, foreign aid programmes and public health activities that are linked to the destruction of human embryos.
€120 million in EU development aid is spent each year on maternal and reproductive healthcare, while the EU provided funding worth €156.7 million to stem cell research projects between 2007 and 2013.
However, in a statement on Wednesday (28 May), EU research commissioner Marie Geoghegan-Quinn ruled out any policy change by the EU executive.
"We have engaged with this Citizens' Initiative and given its request all due consideration," she said.
"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."
Meanwhile, Andris Piebalgs, the bloc's development commissioner, added that the 'One of Us' proposal would undermine the EU's efforts to meet the target to reduce maternal mortality and achieve universal access to reproductive health including in the Millennium Development Goals.
"Our development programmes…aim to expand access to effective family-planning services, therefore preventing the need for abortions," he added.
"The Commission’s response has taken into account the devastating impact that “One of Us” could have had on the EU’s development objectives,” said Neil Datta, Secretary of the European Parliamentary Forum on Population and Development.
For its part, the 'One of Us' campaign accused the Commission of taking "a decision contrary to ethical and democratic requirements". It also promised to appeal the Commission's decision to the EU's highest court, European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.
With nearly 2 million signatories, the 'One of Us' campaign is the best supported initiative so far. Some 600,000 signatories came from Italy, followed by 250,000 from Poland, with the campaign reaching the required quorum of signatures from 20 of the EU's 28 countries.
Introduced in 2012, the European Citizens' Initiative lets 1 million or more EU citizens task the commission with consideration of new laws.