Temporary embargo on embryonic stem cell research - institutional crisis looming?

September 4, 2002

Brussels, August 2002

Members of the Committee on Industry, External Trade, Research and Energy used harsh words when they met for the first time after the summer break: a number of them accused the Council of violating the EU Treaties and the codecision rights of the European Parliament by adopting a temporary embargo, at the end of July, on funding for human embryonic stem cell and human embryo research under the specific programmes for the 6th Framework Programme for Research. However, the Council decision would not prevent stem cell research with adult cell lines from being funded.

The chairman of the committee, Carlos Westendorp Y Cabeza (PES, E), pointed out that there was an agreement that the compromises adopted by both the Parliament and the Council to the 6th Framework Programme itself (codecision procedure in May and June) would also apply to the specific programmes and that the embargo ran counter to this. He said that by adopting this decision on the Framework Programme the Council had taken hostage one part of the research world - embryonic stem cell research. The constitutional legacy of the decision was questioned by several members and the Council was accused of undervaluing Parliament's good faith. The committee decided that, before suggesting any response, it would have the matter discussed by the political group coordinators and it might possibly consult Parliament's legal service.

The decision - itself a compromise in the Council - had apparently been taken after Italy refused to adopt the specific programmes if human embryonic stem cell research and embryo research were financed through the Framework Programme. The Danish Minister for Science, Technology and Innovation, Helge Sander, defended the decision at the meeting by saying that it did not affect the EU's intention to finance this type of research in the long run but gave the Council time to work out more detailed implementing rules.

The decision states that the Council must establish by 31 December 2003 detailed implementing provisions concerning bio-ethical scrutiny of research activities involving the use of human embryos and human embryonic stem cells. EU funding of such activities will therefore be postponed until then, except in certain specified cases. In September 2003 the Council will have a discussion on the issue based on a report by the European Commission.

However, MEPs and the Danish Minister stressed that stem cell research represents only a small part of the € 17.5m available under the 6th Framework Programme. MEPs reminded the Minister that the European Parliament had initially wanted to adopt more specific ethical rules for funding - and had done so at its first reading - but that it was Council who could not agree on a common formula and thus deleted the whole passage. This had now backfired in the light of Council's inability to agree.

26.08.2002 Committee on Industry, External Trade, Research and Energy       In the chair: Carlos WESTENDORP Y CABEZA (PES, E)

Press enquiries:Leena Maria Linnus - tel. (32-2) 28 42825e-mail: indu-press@europarl.eu.int

European Parliament News Report 2002-08-

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