BRUSSELS, Belgium — The European Commission has rejected the pro-life citizens’ initiative One of Us, which sought to ban European Union (EU) funding for research and other activities that destroy human embryos.
The leadership committee of One of Us expressed "deep disappointment" in the decision, which it characterized as a "veto" that is "contrary to ethical and democratic requirements."
"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," the committee said May 28.
Otherwise, it said, the citizens’ initiative process would be "meaningless."
"The commission wishes to continue financing non-ethical and outdated biotechnological practices, as well as abortion in developing countries, including countries where this is prohibited by criminal law," the committee charged.
On May 28, the commission’s final day in office, the 28-member body "decided not to submit a legislative proposal." It said that EU member states and the European Parliament only recently discussed and decided EU policy.
The commission said it decided that the existing funding framework "is the appropriate one."
Citizens’ initiatives are intended to allow EU citizens to introduce proposed legislation into the EU Parliament.
In order to win a hearing, initiatives must receive 1 million signatures from EU citizens and a minimum number of signatures from at least seven of the EU’s 27 member states within a year of the initiative being introduced.
The One of Us petition received 1 million signatures in early September 2013, nearly two full months before its deadline, and passed the minimum per-country requirement in Austria, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Spain.
It was only the second citizens’ initiative ever to receive the required support. Continued petition-gathering later increased the signature total to nearly 2 million.
The initiative organizers met with the European Commission April 9 and had a public hearing in the European Parliament April 10.
The initiative organizers said the commission’s refusal to make a legislative proposal based on the initiative was "unjustified" and "does not even take the purpose of the request into account."
Pope Francis and Benedict XVI have voiced support for the campaign, as did many other bishops. Pro-life leaders, politicians, doctors and academics were among the initiative’s backers.
"I am pleased to recall the petition to support the One of Us initiative to ensure legal protection to the embryo, protecting every human being from the first moment of its existence," Pope Francis said at Italy’s March for Life in May 2013.
And Benedict said that February, "I greet the movement for life and wish it success on the One of Us initiative, so that Europe might always be a place where every human being’s dignity is safeguarded."
The European Commission said that its research-funding rules respect national legislation; EU funds may not be used to derive or procure new stem-cell lines or to support research that destroys embryos.
However, it acknowledged that, between 2007 and 2013, it spent about $213 million on research involving the use of human embryonic stem cells, which has shown far less promise than research using adult stem cells and stem cells from umbilical cord blood, which don’t destroy human life.
The European Commission said that it rejects the promotion of abortion as a method of family planning and that abortion should be "performed in safe conditions" where it is not against the law.
The One of Us Citizens’ Committee said the European Commission’s decision is likely to be appealed before Luxembourg’s Court of Justice, where the laws recognize respect for human life from conception.
The next EU Parliament could also change the fate of the initiative by changing the makeup of the European Commission.