On 25 March 2020, the European Commission together with the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy presented the new “EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy for 2020–2024” (hereinafter referred to as: the Action Plan). It is a document of strategic importance for the European Union’s external actions, in which its main priorities in the scope of the promotion of human rights and democracy towards third countries and international organisations (UN, OSCE and the Council of Europe) are outlined.
Additionally, the European Commission and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy presented a document determining the procedure of adopting the abovementioned Action Plan, which will allow the Council of the European Union to take decisions on the EU foreign policy concerning human rights and democracy under the qualified majority voting procedure (so far the Council of the European Union has adopted decisions in the abovementioned scope unanimously). This means that the European Union would be able to adopt common positions, for example at the UN, contrary to the values represented by some Member States, including the admissibility of prenatal killing (abortion).
While presenting the Action Plan’s assumptions concerning human rights and democracy on the basis of Article 22(2) of the Treaty on the European Union, the European Commission and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy submitted the common proposal regarding the recommendation of the Council of the European Union to the European Council on adopting the decision determining the EU’s strategic objectives fulfilled within the EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy for 2020–2024. The Council of the European Union may adopt the abovementioned recommendation by a unanimous vote.
The procedure initiated by the European Commission assumes that the European Council will unanimously take decisions on the EU’s strategic interests and objectives concerning the common foreign and security policy and other areas regarding the EU’s external actions (Article 22(1) of the Treaty on European Union). On the basis of the abovementioned decision of the European Council, the Council of the European Union will be allowed under the procedure of qualified majority to take decisions determining the EU’s actions or positions in the indicated scope (Article 31(2) of the Treaty on European Union). Currently, these decisions are taken pursuant to the unanimity rule.
The Action Plan presented by the European Commission determines the overriding priorities and objectives of the EU’s policy in the scope of human rights for the next 4 years. As indicated by the European Commission, more than 140 EU delegations and offices around the world and Member States’ embassies will be at the forefront of the implementation of the Action Plan, adjusting its priorities and objectives to local circumstances and submitting reports on their effects. Moreover, the EU delegations will cooperate with Member States in order to determine specific priorities in the countries of their operation for a period of five years. These activities will be supported by significant financial resources and political base. Programmes and projects at the national, regional and global level, as well as missions and operations within the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) are to contribute to the achievement of specific objectives.
The objectives determined by the European Commission include:
The content of the “Protecting and empowering individuals” point, including postulates referring to the “gender” and LGBT ideology, raises special concerns. In order to combat so-called gender-based violence, the European Commission plans to intensify measures aimed at adopting and implementing the controversial Istanbul Convention. This document assumes that “violence against women is a manifestation of historically unequal power relations between women and men, which have led to domination over, and discrimination against, women by men”. This violence is said to be a structural phenomenon conditioned by gender (“social-cultural gender”) or the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for women and men. The strategy for combating violence presented in the Istanbul Convention assumes ideologised education of children and youth – including sex education, which may violate parents’ right to raise their children in conformity with their own convictions.
The document also includes references to the Conferences in Cairo (1994) and Beijing (1995) as well as a declaration of commitment to the promotion of so-called reproductive and sexual health and rights. The “reproductive rights and reproductive and sexual health” term was formulated at the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo (1994). From the very beginning, it has been arousing numerous controversies and to this day it is still not clearly defined, while radical circles use it to widely promote abortion and permissive sex education. It should be stressed that due to objections of numerous countries, a separate category of “sexual rights” was not formulated intentionally due to its ideological character. Despite numerous objections, the concept of reproductive rights (and sometimes also sexual rights) is included in the scope of different documents formulated by international bodies, frequently against the will of numerous Member States. An example of its use for purposes contrary to the states’ positions is the recent Nairobi Summit or current works on Universal Health Coverage. During these events, Member States (also Poland) objected to using it, in particular for purposes of promotion of legalisation of prenatal killing.
Moreover, it should be recalled that under international law, there is no such notion as the “right to abortion”, and states have repeatedly expressed their objection to attempts to create such a right. Abortion constitutes a violation of fundamental human rights, in particular the right to life, freedom from torture and inhuman treatment. It also constitutes an expression of one of the most cruel forms of discrimination based on sex, colour, disability or just the fact of “being unwanted”.
It should also be stressed that the issues of sexual and reproductive health fall within the scope of the Member States’ health policy, for which the European Union has only supporting competences, and it may not strive for the harmonisation of law in the Member States. Therefore, it is questionable whether the EU has the competence to address this issue and formulate common positions.
The tools which are to be used for the implementation of the “Protecting and empowering individuals” objective include, for example, resolutions of the UN Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly, support for the ratification and implementation of relevant conventions of the UN and the International Labour Organization (ILO) as well as optional reports or statements on violating human rights.
The account of positions taken by the EU at the UN shows that the EU goes far beyond the internationally established consensus on the controversial concepts described above. The European Union’s positions at the Nairobi Summit (from which many countries, including Poland, categorically distanced themselves) and the High-Level Meeting on Universal Health Coverage have already been mentioned. During both of these events, the European Union was in favour of the full implementation of so-called “reproductive and sexual rights” (despite the fact that this term was rejected by Member States) and the individual’s right to “decide on their own body”. In both positions, the “need to ensure common access to (...) sex education and health services” was also stressed. Similar declarations also appeared in the position presented at the end of last year by the EU at the UN General Assembly on the resolution concerning “Global health and foreign policy”. Furthermore, this position included references to the concept of gender-based violence. A meaningful fact is that postulates connected with combating contagious diseases, ensuring access to healthy food, clean water and health education and prevention appear at the end of this document and are of secondary character in relation to “reproductive and sexual rights”. Another document including references to this concept is the EU’s statement on the UNGA resolution on women and development.
Departure from the unanimity rule will only sanction the practice of adopting by the EU positions going far beyond the agreed consensus. As a consequence, the voice of Member States objecting to the adoption of these positions will be even further marginalised and will not constitute a reference point in the debate about the shape of the policy adopted by the EU.
Moreover, one of reference points for the assessment of the implementation of the Action Plan is to be debates and resolutions taken by the European Parliament. In recent years, the European Parliament has repeatedly taken positions promoting access to prenatal killing as a human right, while its absence was considered a form of violence against women.
The promotion of legalisation on prenatal killing is in conflict with the binding international law, i.e. with Article 2(1) of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, Article 2(2) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, Article 6(1) and (5) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 6 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Forcing vulgar sex education and “gender” ideology violates parents’ right to raise their children in conformity with their own convictions.
Given the differentiated attitude of states towards the term and scope of the concept of “reproductive and sexual health and rights” — in particular the objection expressed by Poland and a number of other Member States — the European Union should not take common positions or common actions on the international scene.
The procedure proposed by the European Commission on adopting the Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy for 2020–2024 is equal to the adoption by the European Union of a uniform position in relation to human rights and democracy in its foreign policy. The acceptance by Member States of the European Commission’s proposal will involve the limitation of Member States’ competences at the international arena to express their own position on key issues concerning, for example, the protection of life from conception.
Taking into account the positions presented so far by the European Parliament or Member States at the UN concerning abortion, sex education and “gender”, there is a fully justified fear that the European Union will run a policy in the abovementioned scope contrary to international human rights treaties. Therefore, it is recommended to express the objection at the Council of the European Union and the European Council to the European Commission’s proposal concerning the adoption of the Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy for 2020–2024.
 Joint Communication to the European Parliament and the Council EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy 2020–2024, https://ec.europa.eu/transparency/regdoc/rep/10101/2020/EN/JOIN-2020-5-F1-EN-MAIN-PART-1.PDF (accessed: 31/03/2020).
 Treaty on European Union (EU C 202 of 7 June 2016, p. 16), hereinafter referred to as: the TEU.
Joint Proposal for a Recommendation of the Council to the European Council on the Adoption of a Decision Identifying the Strategic Objectives of the Union to be pursued through the EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy 2020–2024, https://Ec.Europa.Eu/Transparency/Regdoc/Rep/10101/2020/En/Join-2020-6-F1-En-Main-Part-1.Pdf (accessed: 01/04/2020).
 Annex to the Joint Communication to the European Parliament and the Council EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy 2020–2024, https://ec.europa.eu/transparency/regdoc/rep/10101/2020/EN/JOIN-2020-5-F1-EN-ANNEX-1-PART-1.PDF, (accessed: 31/03/2020).
 Annex…, p. 1.
 Annex…, point I letter A, p. 2.
 Preamble to the Istanbul Convention, paragraph 9.
 Preamble to the Istanbul Convention, paragraph 10.
 Reiterated EU commitment to playing a leading role in improving women’s and girls’ empowerment and access to sexual and reproductive health and rights, 5 November 2019, https://www.nairobisummiticpd.org/commitment/reiterated-eu-commitment-playing-leading-role-improving-women%E2%80%99s-and-girls%E2%80%99-empowerment, accessed: 22 April 2020.
 EU Statement by Commissioner Andriukaitis – United Nations General Assembly: High-Level Meeting on Universal Health Coverage, 23 September 2019, https://eeas.europa.eu/delegations/un-new-york/67764/eu-statement-commissioner-andriukaitis-%E2%80%93-united-nations-general-assembly-high-level-meeting_en , accessed: 22 April 2020.
 Alex M. Azar II, Remarks on Universal Health Coverage , 23 September 2019, https://www.hhs.gov/about/leadership/secretary/speeches/2019-speeches/remarks-on-universal-health-coverage.html, accessed: 22 April 2020.
 Article 6 and Article 168 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (EU C 202 of 7 June 2016, p. 47), hereinafter referred to as: the TFEU.
 Annex…, point I, p. 2.
 EU Statement – United Nations General Assembly: On the Adoption of the 2019 UNGA Resolution on Global Health and Foreign Policy, 11 December 2019, https://eeas.europa.eu/delegations/un-new-york/71933/eu-statement-%E2%80%93-united-nations-general-assembly-adoption-2019-unga-resolution-global-health-and_en, accessed: 22 April 2020.
 EU Explanation of Vote: United Nations 2nd Committee: Resolution on Women in Development, 27 November 2019, https://eeas.europa.eu/delegations/un-new-york/71356/eu-explanation-vote-united-nations-2nd-committee-resolution-women-development_en, accessed: 22 April 2020.
 Annex…, point V letter A, p. 14.
 Compare the European Parliament resolution of 13 February 2019 on experiencing a backlash in women’s rights and gender equality in the EU (2018/2684(RSP)), https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/TA-8-2019-0111_PL.html (accessed: 22/04/2020), the European Parliament resolution of 13 February 2020 on priorities for the 64th Session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (2019/2967 (RSP)), https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/TA-9-2020-0039_PL.html (accessed: 01/04/2020), the European Parliament resolution of 17 April 2020 on EU coordinated action to combat the COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences (2020/2616(RSP)), https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/TA-9-2020-0054_PL.html (accessed: 22/04/2020).
 Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, drawn up in Rome on 4 November 1950, amended by Protocols no. 3, 5 and 8 and supplemented by Protocol no. 2 (Journal of Laws of 1993, no. 61, item 284, as amended).
 Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (Journal of Laws of the EU. C. of 2007, no. 303, p. 1, as amended).
 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights open for signature in New York on 19 December 1966 r. (Journal of Laws of 1977 No. 38, item 167).
 Convention on the Rights of the Child adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 20 November 1989 (Journal of Laws of 1991, no. 120, item 526, as amended).