Adoption of the 7th Research Framework Programme
On the occasion of the final adoption of the 7th Research Framework Programme on 18 December and of the Specific Research Programmes on 20 December 2006, Mgr. Noel Treanor, Secretary General of COMECE, made the following statement:
We regret that we cannot welcome wholeheartedly the adoption of the 7th Research Framework Programme and the complementary specific research programmes. We welcome the broad variety of important research areas which will be supported by the European Union. Indeed we consider that this can constitute an important contribution not only to the wellbeing of citizens, but also to competitivity in the European Research Area. Yet we continue to insist that the EU should concentrate its joint research efforts on research areas which do not violate deeply held convictions about the inviolability of human life.
We are at a loss to understand why the European institutions insisted on allowing EU-funding for very contentious research involving the instrumentalisation of human embryos. We recall our fundamental ethical and anthropological concern regarding the pursuit of such research.
At EU-level, the question at stake is primarily a question of the ethics of EU research funding: Given that the financial means available for research are limited, EU funding must – in order to spend the available means in the most appropriate manner – concentrate on joint priorities. An issue which is so contentious both between member states and within member states can certainly not be considered as a joint priority of the EU.
Five member states voted against the research programmes because of their ethical objections: Austria, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, and Slovakia. Furthermore, the vote in the European Parliament on this ethical question revealed a deep, almost even division among the Parliamentarians. A large group of MEPs supported an amendment (Gargani) that EU-funding should not be given to any projects involving the destruction human embryos and the use of human embryonic stem cells. As they failed to achieve a majority, a political compromise amendment was voted. This proposed that EU-funding would be limited to research on human embryonic stem cell lines created before a certain cut-off date in the past. This would have ensured that EU research funding would not give incentives for further procurements of stem cell lines requiring the destruction of human embryos. However, this amendment failed to be adopted because more than 20 MEPs who had supported the previous amendment were not able to support this compromise (or to abstain from the vote).
We take note of the declaration of the European Commission which was issued during the meeting of the Council of Ministers on 24 July 2006 in order to ensure the support of a qualified majority of member states for the Framework Programme. In this declaration the Commission commits itself inter alia not to “submit to the Regulatory Committee proposals for projects which include research activities which destroy human embryos, including for the procurement of stem cells“ The Commission furthermore states that this does not exclude from EU funding “subsequent steps involving human embryonic stem cells”.
It is evident from the context that this Commission declaration was issued in order to take account of the concern that EU research policy should not give any incentives for the destruction of human embryos. Therefore we trust that the Commission declaration, which is not quite clear in its wording, will be applied as referring to those human embryonic stem cell lines that already existed at the time of the adoption of the Framework Programme. Any other interpretation would have to be considered as inconsistent or even misleading.