Catholic Europe Toes EU's Anti-Church Line on Life Issues
BRUSSELS, Belgium—There is much talk in Europe these days of “European values”—partly in response to the success of far-right candidate Jean Marie Le Pen in the first round of the recent French presidential election, and in response to the rise of a libertarian/anti-immigration party in Holland that was founded by Pim Fortuyn, who was recently shot dead by an extremist Green activist.
These European values at first glance seem unobjectionable. They are the values of all liberal democracies—respect for minority rights, freedom of religion, tolerance, etc. But when these values are translated into policies problems arise, because in practice they often turn out to be the values of the radical, egalitarian, secular left.
Or at least one might think problems would arise, because they ought to be troubling to Catholic countries such as Ireland, Spain, Portugal or Italy. It may be the case that Catholicism is not the force it once was in these countries, but nonetheless many of the edicts and policies issuing from the European Union are so radically at odds with the values of many ordinary people in such places as Ireland that alarm bells should be ringing.
How is it, for example, that an Irish government representative can travel to the headquarters of the European Commission in Brussels and agree to an initiative by the EU to provide funding for human embryo research?
And how is it possible that the Irish government can acquiesce when a European Union delegation turns up at another U.N. conference, speaking on behalf of all EU countries, and aggressively insists on inserting references to “reproductive rights” (read abortion) into that conference's document?
On May 7 a meeting took place in Brussels between the EU's governing Council of Ministers, the Commission (which floats initiatives that must be approved by the Council), and the European Parliament (which must approve expenditure).
Under discussion was the Caudron report. This report investigates whether or not the EU should fund “therapeutic” cloning, human embryo research, stem cell research, etc. While it recommends that “reproductive” cloning should not receive EU funding, it endorses research on so-called “surplus” embryos created through in vitro fertilization treatments and research using embryonic stem cells—both of which the Catholic Church has condemned as gravely immoral.
The Spanish government currently holds the presidency of the European Union and so is in charge of negotiations between the member states of the EU and between the various EU institutions. At no point has it raised any real ethical objections to what the Commission is proposing.
Several European countries ban embryo research under their own laws or constitutions. They are: Ireland, Germany, Austria, Portugal, Italy and Spain. Only one of these countries, Germany, sent a meaningful set of guidelines to the Spanish negotiator that in any way reflected its own national laws.
Ireland did say that it absolutely opposed cloning. It also said that it objected to the manufacture of embryos for the specific purpose of research.
But note what it did not say—it did not say it objected to research being carried out on embryos that have already been brought into existence, for example, by fertility clinics.
Embryo research cannot take place in Ireland, but the Irish government will fund it via the EU since the EU will pay for it out of a central pot to which Irish taxpayers contribute.
In May, the United Nations hosted a child summit in New York. The EU, as usual, sent a delegation. As mentioned above, it wanted reproductive rights recognized in the end-of-summit document. The EU position paper did mention the family, but only because pro-family members of the European Parliament, among them Ireland's Dana Rosemary Scallon, had won a desperate battle against their feminist-minded counterparts before the position paper was finalized.
Pro-life/pro-family delegates who attend these conferences often remark how disappointed they are at the positions adopted by countries such as Ireland and even Malta. Malta is as Catholic today as Ireland was 30 years ago, but still it mainly goes along with the EU line. How can this be when it isn't even a member of the EU?
The answer is not hard to find—it is because it is led by a government that wants to see Malta become a part of the EU and so is learning to toe the party line.
In the short-term view it is hard to see what Catholics and others who oppose anti-life and anti-family policies can do about this. There is a rigid consensus among all the main parties in Europe about all the major issues, whether economic or social. The media usually go along with this consensus; indeed, many EU correspondents often have the same slavish attitude towards the European Commission that Pravda correspondents once had towards the Kremlin.
In the long-term view, Europe will likely see a growing number of voters turn in desperation to anyone who will challenge Europe's cozy consensus. Often this will be extremist parties such as Le Pen's National Front. When this happens Europe's elites will have no one but themselves to blame.
But when it does happen, real differences might emerge among the main European parties again as they respond to their electorates. One of those differences might concern family and life issues. Those who support the traditional family and oppose the culture of death can only hope so.
David Quinn is editor of the Irish Catholic.
- June 02-08, 2002