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No protection for human embryos – CJEU rejects One of Us appeal

Published: 17.01.2020

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Destroying human embryos, as well as studying and experimenting on embryonic stem cells, will be legal in the European Union. The Court of Justice of the European Union has rejected the appeal of the creators of the "One of Us" European Citizens' Initiative. This means that it will cease to be worked on any further by the EU. The purpose of the initiative was to make EU regulations more uniform by prohibiting and defunding actions which violate fundamental human rights.

The initiative was registered at the European Commission in May 2012, and was subsequently signed by nearly 2 million Europeans over the 18 months that followed. Despite that fact, the European Commission refused to continue working on the ECI on 28 May 2014. The initiative's originators filed a complaint with the European Court of Justice against the European Commission, demanding an overturn of its decision not to refer the case to the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union. Unfortunately, the Court rejected the complaint in April 2018. The authors of the initiative then appealed to the Grand Chamber of the Court of Justice of the European Union.

The CJUE ultimately upheld the decision, claiming that "it is clear from the very wording of Article 11(4) TEU that an ECI is designed to ‘invite’ the Commission to submit an appropriate proposal for the purpose of implementing the Treaties, and not, as claimed by the appellants, to oblige that institution to take the action or actions envisaged by the ECI concerned". In addition, the CJUE noted that the purpose of the Initiative mechanism is to give EU citizens the right to address the Commission, which is comparable to the rights of the European Parliament and the Council. According to the Treaty, the European Commission is not obligated to initiate legislative proceedings at the demand of the Parliament or Council, provided that it informs the relevant institution about the reasons for its decision.

The Court also noted that it is representative democracy that is the basis of the European union, and European Citizens' Initiatives are direct in nature. According to the Court, the fact that the Commission did not act after the initiative had been registered is not tantamount to Initiatives being ineffective, as a properly registered ECI imposes a number of concrete duties on the EC, as listed in resolution no. 211/2011.

"The case of 'One of Us' shows that instruments such as European Citizens' Initiatives, which constitute part of the EU's direct democratic mechanism, serve only to keep up appearances. Lack of impact on the decisions made by the EU and its policies may be one of the causes of the low European Parliament election turnout and the increasingly popular voices to leave the European Union which can be heard in various countries. In order to survive and work to the benefit of the whole of Europe, the European Union needs far-reaching institutional reforms," says Magdalena Olek, Deputy Director of the Ordo Iuris Institute Centre for International Law.

"The aversion of EU decision-makers towards expanding the protection of unborn children demonstrates that what we currently know about science is frequently subordinated to ideology. In particular based on advances in genetics, we know that every human, starting from conception, possesses unique DNA which is neither that of their mother nor father. Thus, an embryo, regardless of its stage of development, is also a separate, living human being. It appears that the decision-makers have been making their decisions without being cognisant of this basic fact," says Filip Furman, Director of the Ordo Iuris Centre for Bioethics.

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