European plans to fund human embryonic stem-cell research have been put on ice after ethical objections from three countries.
A proposal by the European Commission to grant central European Union funding to the research has been shelved for the foreseeable future after failing to win the approval of the EU Council of Ministers at its meeting on December 3.
Ministers took no decision after ethical objections were pressed by Germany and Austria, and by Italy, which holds the EU presidency until December 31.
The council said it would not attempt to secure agreement again before the present moratorium on research ends, also on December 31.
But with Ireland, a Catholic member country, assuming the EU presidency for the first half of next year, there is thought to be little chance of progress in 2004.
A spokesman for the Irish government said it did not intend to use its control of EU council agendas to raise the matter.
But once the moratorium ends, the EU will be bound by the Sixth Framework Programme's regulation. This allows the commission to propose specific programmes involving the use of human embryos and stem cells provided that an EU committee, composed of delegates from the 15 member states, approves it on ethical grounds.
It will require a qualified majority to reject a project and commission officials hope that some programmes will be authorised as a result.