30 May 2014

It is pleasing that the unloved EU Commission has refused to advance a reactionary petition. This basically called for legislation to ban EU funding for embryonic stem cell research and for organisations that as part of their assistance to women in developing countries facilitate abortions. The EU Commission response is here.

The petition gathered about 1.7 million signatures (nearly half from Italy and Poland) and would have imposed conservative Christian beliefs on EU funding in these spheres of work. It arose from a provision that if a million people from seven EU countries sign a petition the Commission must consider it; a little like the petition provisions for the UK parliament and Cornwall Council. I think all petitions probably carry problems: the difficulty some people have in distinguishing between being listened to and being agreed with and the reasonable expectations that formal petitioners that reach a quota have. Yes, I’m pleased the Commission in effect rejected the petition but I think the EU has got itself into a democratic spot with its citizens’ initiative petitioning and can understand the frustration of the petitioners.

The debate (video) in the EU parliament threw up the familiar irreconcilable differences on the questions. At what point can we talk of a human being: at conception or later? At what point should we take the rights of the unborn into account along with those of the woman: from conception, later, never as the woman’s rights should always prevail? There’s a further question too. Should subsequent practical laws based on the answers to these questions be imposed on other people – a ban on abortions or embryonic stem cell research for example – or should we let everyone come to their own answer and action, the state setting reasonable rules for practices? I’m on the liberal side in these arguments.