European Citizens’ Initiative “One of Us”
European Parliament Hearing
Brussels – 10 April 2014
Grégor Puppinck, representative of the ECI
Introduction and conclusion
Introduction- presentation of the ECI One of Us
Today I have the honour of addressing you as a representative of the organising committee of the European Citizens’ Initiative “One of us” which to date is the Citizens’ Initiative which has collected the largest number of signatures across Europe.
The Citizens’ Initiative “One of Us” has collected almost two million signatures, which makes it the largest Initiative to date and the biggest petition in the history of the European institutions.
Our proposals are within the competences of the European Union and they are in line with European law and fundamental rights. This has already been verified and certified by the European Commission during the examination prior to the official registration of the Initiative.
The Citizens’ Initiative “One of Us” has therefore fulfilled all the necessary conditions in order for it to be the subject of a legislative proposal that will be discussed following the elections by the next Parliament and the Council.
The purpose of today’s hearing is not to try and anticipate the debate that will take place on the basis of our legislative proposal. The idea is to give us, who represent almost two million citizens, the opportunity to explain our proposal in detail.
Our proposal is simple and clear. It is based on the European experience. Furthermore it is fair and beneficial.
Out of respect for life and the dignity of every human being, we call for the inclusion in European regulation of an ethical clause that explicitly excludes from EU funding any activity which destroys, or involves the destruction of, human life. This ethical clause of general application would apply in particular to the funding of biotechnological practices which involve the destruction of human embryos and the funding of abortions in the context of developmental aid.
Thus, the Initiative asks that the following principle would be introduced into European law:
“No European Union funds should be attributed to activities which destroy human embryos or which involve their destruction”
The reason is that every human embryo is one of us.
This is the message of two million European citizens which we have the honour and responsibility of bringing before this Assembly today.
Like any truth, this message is difficult to hear as it goes against our selfishness.
The power to eliminate unwanted children, to exploit human embryos for industrial purposes, to limit population growth in poor countries and to impose our lifestyles on them: these are the powers which we call upon you to renounce out of respect for human beings who have barely been conceived and are in gestation.
Yes, our Initiative is fundamentally opposed to everything that destroys human beings. Our Initiative is a public statement of the consciences of millions of European citizens who recognise the humanity and individuality of every human being from conception.
We know that many people and organisations that are represented here are fundamentally and violently opposed to this testimony. We know very well that these organisations which promote abortion and unethical research on human embryos are, by all appearances, much more powerful than we are. Who do they represent? Strong financial interests, transnational lobbyists defending minority interests which have become very powerful in the last twenty years.
Next to them, we are nothing: we have no money, no power. And yet, we persist. This initiative was supported by a huge number of volunteers; and has received the support of a huge number of European citizens, larger than has ever united behind any other European petition. In this group of people, there are only volunteers: no one acts because of personal or financial interest. We have all decided to act because we have attentively listened to the voice of our consciences, which have told us that the life of every individual begins at conception and that consequently every human embryo is already a person and deserves respect.
The fundamental reason for this respect is simple: a human being is more than a thing or an animal. Every human being has a conscience that allows them to understand that which is true and good; and it is by virtue of this conscience that we call upon you to ensure that no European Union funds should be attributed to activities which destroy human embryos or which require their destruction.
To hold otherwise would be to believe that a human being is nothing more than an animal.
We call upon the European institutions to give greater respect to the human being.
Two million Europeans call upon the European institutions to raise the level of their values, to grow in humanity, to expand their consciences to recognise the humanity of all human life from conception.
This progress requires the awareness that a real human being exists before birth and from conception. As a human being, it is the holder of natural and inalienable rights and deserves greater protection from society because of its vulnerability.
Today, we can no longer hide behind our ignorance in order to justify the destruction of human embryos and foetuses. Today we know. Science itself teaches us that every individual life is an uninterrupted continuum from conception to death. We know that from conception a human being is fully formed with all of its individual and unique characteristics.
The destruction of embryos and the establishment of public policies to that effect shall never be accepted. These policies will always be condemned by the millions of people who listen to the voice of their consciences.
In fact, and the success of this Initiative is the expression of this, citizens are becoming increasingly aware of the respect which every human life deserves. For several years we have witnessed an awakening of awareness in this regard. Look at the recent legislative developments in several European and American countries.
Europe, which wishes to be based on a foundation of values – especially in the area of human life and dignity – could be an example of this progress. This is what we ask of you. And this request is not unattainable; it is even very reasonable, but it implies not acting solely based on short-term financial interests.
The respect due to life and the dignity of every human life from conception is also largely recognised in European and international law. European regulation which prohibits the funding of the destruction of the embryo in the course of research and the directive on biotechnology which forbids the creation of patents for practices which imply the destruction of embryos, are founded on the recognition of human dignity within every human embryo.
There is also the application of the Oviedo Convention on biotechnology. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has also clearly affirmed “the rights of every child to life from the moment of conception” and that “human embryos and foetuses must be treated in all circumstances with the respect due to human dignity”
We are calling on the European institutions to be coherent and to draw the necessary conclusions from the idea of the humanity of every individual life from conception.
Thus, that which the signatories of this Initiative call for is not simply based on a fundamental moral question – the respect of life and of human dignity – but also on scientific, social and legal justifications. Scientific justifications show us that research on embryonic stem cells is largely outdated. Social justifications show us that the practice
of abortion does not contribute to the development or the improvement of maternal health. Legal justifications show us that the actions of the European Union are incoherent from an ethical point of view.
It took centuries for humanity to put an end to slavery, for us to recognise all human beings as our equals; in order for us to recognise that the foreigner or the “savage” is “one of us”. Yet, at that time, political, economic and financial interests were opposed to the recognition of the humanity and equal rights of slaves. Today, we face a similar situation. We hear the same utilitarian arguments which invoke the importance for the economy of the ability to exploit and eliminate these human beings who are not truly human, and in any case, not equal to us.
Finally, even from an economic point of view, the abolition of slavery proved beneficial as it led to the mechanisation of agriculture. Similarly, evidence suggests that if we were to give up non-ethical research on human embryos this would be beneficial to the progress of science as it would promote other avenues of research inducible adult stem cells iPS. Since the discovery of these iPS cells, private financial investments for embryonic cells have literally collapsed. It is therefore not only unethical but also contrary to scientific developments that the European Union continues to support these practices.
It is well known that today the principal interest in the use of embryonic stem cells is neither scientific nor therapeutic, but economic: they allow the pharmaceutical industry to test future medications on a large scale, at a lower financial cost that through the use of IPS cells or animals.
In any case, it would be a great step forward for humanity if Europe, rather than financing and encouraging the practice of abortion en masse, committed to a true development policy which would fight against the causes of maternal mortality and abortion. It is not by financing abortion that Europe will improve women’s health. Quite the contrary.
If Europe wishes to improve maternal health in poor countries we should be improving medical infrastructure, the training of medical staff, hygiene and transport links. It is their deficiency that causes maternal mortality. It is not by making access to abortion a priority that we improve maternal health. Quite the contrary, abortion – even in industrialised countries – is a major cause of maternal mortality. The proof is that countries which severely restrict abortions are precisely those with the lowest levels of maternal mortality. The examples of Chile, Ireland and Poland are proof of this. The maternal mortality rate is much higher in the U.S. than in Poland.
Under the guise of the fight against maternal mortality, the purpose of the policies on sexual and reproductive health is to fundamentally change the societies of developing countries by reducing their birth rate. It is nothing more or less than the export to poor countries of the so-called “Western social model” which involves contraception and abortion as its major tenets.
But this policy results in the breakdown of the family, which is the very basis of society. Through colonialism, the West has already partially destroyed the social balance of these peoples. Does Europe want to be guilty of destructive neocolonialism? Is that the European idea of development?
Again, we are calling upon the European institutions to do better by refusing to finance and promote abortion, and by committing to an aid policy which would allow the type of development that respects these societies, life and mankind.
Whether in research, industry or development, no true progress can be made based on the negation, exploitation and destruction of humanity at the beginning of a human beings existence.
We have not only come to testify. The Citizen’s Initiative “One of Us” does not end today. On the contrary, today is the beginning of the legislative process of shared initiative.
Our initiative holds the EU institutions not only to their moral responsibility, but also to their democratic responsibility.
The European Citizens’ Initiative mechanism was created in order to share the European legislative initiative with European citizens. This instrument aims to open the EU to citizens’ participation, and strengthen its democratic legitimacy the weakness of which was so heavily felt for so many years. It is now vital for the credibility of the European institutions that the expectations and hopes that are related to this proposal are not disappointed.
The “One of Us” Initiative is not only the one that has attracted the most support across Europe and is the most representative, but it is also the first to date to contain a specific legislative proposal that concretely specifies the changes we would like to see made to European Union legislation.
During the official registration of the Initiative, the legislative proposal was subject to prior review by the Commission which has verified and certified that it fully complies with the fundamental rights and basic values of the primary law of the European Union.
In addition, this proposal is simple and realistic and will not incur expenses for the EU budget. There are therefore neither practical obstacles nor substantive considerations which could justify a Commission decision not to launch a legislative procedure based on the content of our Initiative. We therefore expect the European Commission to introduce our legislative proposal and submit it for consideration by the Parliament and the Council, with some purely technical modifications which may be necessary, but which do not affect the substance of this proposal.
The political desirability of the legislative proposal is demonstrated by the popular support of two million people, and it is not for the Commission to decide on this point at this stage of the proceedings. The Commission does not consider the political desirability of a Citizens’ Initiative: it is the people directly who do, since more than one million citizens support the Initiative.
It is very clearly that the purpose of Article 11 of the TEU is to give citizens the initiative of legislative procedures such as this one, without it being possible for it to be blocked in an arbitrary manner.
What would be the point of the mechanism of Citizens’ Initiative if only the proposals that appeal to the European Commission had a chance to be introduced into the legislative process! What good would it do to gather more than one million signatures? The Citizens’ Initiative mechanism would be useless. Worse, it would be a caricature of participatory democracy, which would further reduce the popular legitimacy of the European institutions.
Because it is up to the next Parliament and the Council of the European Union which are vested with legislative powers, it is for them to discuss and vote on the legislative project proposed by the “One of Us” Initiative.
Be assured that we will never give up.