Following the successful Citizens’ Initiative “One of Us”, which has collected nearly 1.9 million signatures and is the most successful of all citizens’ initiatives so far, the European Parliament is obliged to hold a hearing on the subject matter of the petition, in which the organizers can present their proposal.
However, it appears that the EU institutions involved have a rather peculiar approach to this hearing. While common sense would expect that this would be the occasion where the politicians will listen to the citizens, the European Parliament and Commission want it the other way round: the organizers of the successful petition should listen to what the politicians have to tell them.
The agenda of the hearing, as it was released today, is truly astonishing. It begins with the statements of four Members of the European Parliament and two Commissioners even before the representative of the Citizens’ Committee, our blog author Grégor Puppinck, will be allowed to take the word for the first time.
It is no surprise, then, that the majority of the politicians who are scheduled as speakers are known to be very hostile to the intentions of the successful initiative. Teresa Riera Madurell, a Spanish socialist who will chair the meeting, played a key role in ensuring that the Research Framework Program “Horizon 2020” does not include any safeguard to exclude ethically controversial research projects that involve or presuppose the destruction of human embryo from EU funding. Françoise Castex, another Socialist MEP, should represent the Legal Affairs Committee, which at the time opposed the funding of embryo-destroying research – but one must expect that she will use the occasion to present her personal opinions rather than those of the Committee. The Committee on Development will be represented by yet another Socialist MEP, Thijs Berman from the Netherlands, who as Rapporteur on the EU’s new “Development Cooperation Instrument” had the merit of not including a clause that would prohibit the misuse of development aid funds for the purpose of abortion, although the citizens’ initiative and its imminent success must already have been known at the time. Taken together, this is a completely disproportionate representation of one single political group, which represents barely one quarter of the electorate (195 out of 766 Members), and which on various occasions (such as the Estrela and the Zuber Reports) has demonstrated its indifference, if not hostility, to the idea that the human embryo is a bearer of human dignity. These people will be allowed to monopolize the debate, i.e. they have secured longer speaking time for themselves than is accorded to the citizens to which they should be listening – whereas dignity-friendly MEPs will be lucky to get just a few seconds to express their support of the initiative.
As regards the two Commissioners who will be present, Maire Gheoghegan-Quinn (Research) and Andris Piebalgs (Development), I have already had the occasion to inform readers of this blog on their attitude towards the successful initiative. Given that they hold the relevant portfolios within the Commission, it is certainly laudable that they attend the hearing – but why must they speak? And why twice?
Definitely, there is a risk that the new institution of a “European Citizens’ Initiative”, which was introduced in 2012 to give citizens a voice, will be turned into its opposite. Just five weeks prior to the upcoming elections, this would be a very bad mistake.
You can follow the hearing live on the internet – there is a webstream. It begins at 9am Brussels local time on Thursday 10 April.
Postscript, 9 April: it has now transpired that in addition to Mr. Berman, the Development Committee will be represented by yet another socialist Member, Mr. Michael Cashman (aka “Mr. Blitzkrieg“, or “The Man who Hit the Wrong Key“). Mr. Cashman is not one of many leftist MEPs, but he is one of the most extremist embryo-haters in the European Parliament; yesterday he was seen at a meeting with lobbyists of the abortion-industry, in which the “One of Us” Initiative was characterized as “despicable”.
This is likely to turn the EP hearing into an absolute farce: the European Citizens’ Initiative serves the purpose to give normal citizens a possibility to make their voice heard, not to give to a discredited man like Mr. Cashman an occasion to hijack the tribune for airing his notorious anti-human-rights views, or for insulting a citizen’s initiative that certainly represents far more citizens than he does.