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Vatican starts using powerful new European petition procedure (2012)

In 2012 the religious lobby gained a more effective way of exerting pressure on the European Commission "from below". The very next year the new petition procedure, the European Citizens' Initiative, was used to try to write Vatican reproductive polices into the European Charter of Rights. In a supporting move and at the same time, this network also generated a flood of emails which prompted the European Parliament to reject the notion of family planning as human right.

The petition which would introduce Vatican doctrine into the human rights charter of Europe was backed by Pope Francis. In the Vatican's drive to end family planning worldwide the European Union poses a problem because it is a secular institution and it is also a source of foreign aid. This petition was an attempt to address both issues. It aimed to change the moral basis of the EU, with the immediate goal of cutting off family-planning aid to the developing world, and the long-term aim of eliminating contraception in Europe, as well.

The petition procedure is a powerful new weapon in the assault on human rights in Europe. It was launched through the European Citizens' Initiative, which means that it cannot just be ignored. An ECI petition compels the European Commission to hand down a legal decision. The Vatican so eagerly awaited the new measure that one wonders if it might have had a hand in its creation. 

At a Catholic strategy session in Rimini in 2011 Carlo Casini, president of the Constitutional Affairs Commission of the European Parliament, revealed plans to use the petition procedure when it came in the following year. Casini explained that ECIs are "much more binding than the Italian petitions: In fact, the Commission is obliged to give an answer to those making the proposal and the latter will have the occasion to explain adequately their reasoning to the Institutions." [...] He went on to say that an ECI would request juridical recognition of conception as the beginning of the right to life being added to the European Charter of Fundamental Rights. [1]

Two years later that is exactly what happened. Arguing that the human embryo is “One of Us”, a campaign was waged in 2013 which gathered close to 1.9 million signatures from 20 countries. This made the “One of Us” petition Europe’s most successful citizen’s initiative to date. Its organisers noted that "among the three successful initiatives, “One of Us” is the only one that comes along with a ready-made legislative proposal that is (a) realistic, and (b) compatible with EU Law." [2]

The purpose of the campaign is to legally define as a person an embryo "from conception in the areas of EU competence".  The immediate implication is that "the EU should establish a ban and end the financing of activities which presuppose the destruction of human embryos, in particular in the areas of research, development aid and public health". [3] This would have two main effects: 

First, it calls on a ban of EU funding for human embryonic stem cells (hESC) research even though this funding currently applies only for countries which allow this research (such as Belgium, UK or Sweden); even though it affects 7 days frozen embryos leftover from in vitro fertilization after parents’ consent; even tough this promising research could help healing a number of degenerative diseases. [...] Second, it calls on a ban of EU funding for NGOs which provide sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) services in developing countries, even though these services save lives, reduce poverty and increase women’s control on their sexuality and body. [4]

But, of course, the longterm implications threaten the reproductive freedom in Europe itself. The Vatican defines as "abortion" any reliable form of contraception. [5] Therefore, if an embryo were defined as a person "from conception", as foreseen in the proposed addition to the EU Charter of Rights, this would in principle outlaw family planning. At one stroke the Vatican would have managed to insert into the legal framework of the EU its key aim to ban reproductive choice.

This is not the first attempt to enshrine Church teachings into the EU. In 2007 a conservative government was formed in Poland which could be used for advancing Vatican policy. This was a majority coalition of the Law and Justice Party, the Self-Defense of the Republic of Poland and the League of Polish Families. [6] This Polish government proposed inserting a ban on abortion into the Constitution of Europe that was signed later that year. However, the proposal was framed in a clumsy fashion, mixed with rhetoric about “growing homosexual propaganda”, and it was rebuffed. An EU spokesman said that “the European Union has no authority when it comes to abortion” (as member states have exclusive competence) and called the remarks on homosexuality  “unfortunate”, reminding Poland that European legislation was meant to combat all forms of discrimination. [7]

This time, however, there is no diversionary "culture war" and the Vatican has managed to find a small area in which the EU does have authority when it comes to abortion — funding. The success of the petition obliged the European Commission to hold a public hearing on the initiative [8] After that, in May 2014, the Commission said it decided that the existing funding framework “is the appropriate one.” [9] The supporters of the petition then launched an appeal. [10]

How did they do it? A powerful network revealed

Also in the autumn of 2013 the same network generated a flood of emails in a related campaign. The organised opposition managed to prevent endorsement by the EU of a report recommending expanded reproductive rights. Although the Estrela report was not binding, if the EU parliamentarians had approved it, this would have effectively signalled opposition to the Vatican's “One of Us” campaign.

Citizens from  the all over Europe flooded Members of the European Parliament with emails against the Estrela report. The European Humanist Federation reported December 3rd that MEPs had received 80,000 emails asking them to defeat the proposal." Sophia Kuby, head of European Dignity Watch, which helped to mount the opposition, estimated that, because the action continued  for another full week until the vote was taken, "it is likely that the number of emails exceeded 100,000.

And the emails to MEPs were only part of it. There were also campaigns involving "grassroots, media and social media". [11] According to Kuby it was mainly conducted through social media , with 4,500 people joining the Facebook page “Estrela No – Respect Subsidiarity” within 72 hours of it being et up on December 6th. She added that the largely symbolic victory over the report was doubly damaging to its advocates. At the EU level, she said, such work is “done for symbolic reasons and to create justifications for new laws and funding” for family planning at the state level. [12]

This side action reveals the scope of the network that has been built up by the Vatican. For decades it has been forging alliances with other conservative religious groups to gain broad support for its policy of forced reproduction. [13] The success of this is mirrored in the names of the groups that opposed the pro-choice Estrela report. Most of the six coalitions named as backing the Vatican initiative have not revealed the names of their member groups. [14] Only one of the French umbrella groups, La Manif pour Tous, has done so, listing 31 groups, among them Evangelical Protestants and Muslims. [15]  

One of the groups involved in the anti-Estrela campaign is the online anti-abortion, anti-gay newsletter, LifeSiteNews. It is funded through donations and sends out a daily collection of more than a dozen articles. It claims to have a "truth-in-news mission" and to be battling "against far more powerful and vastly better funded anti-life forces". It gives its readers the feeling of belonging to a select group who are not fooled by the morally degenerate "mainstream media". [16] At the end of these inflammatory articles the reader is often offered the contact information for a protest email. LifesiteNews is bolstered by a network of zealoulsy conservative Catholic bloggers. John Allen, Vatican analyst for the National Catholic Reporter, has dubbed this trend "Taliban Catholicism." [17]

A report by a group that included ten Catholic bishops characterised LifeSiteNews as employing "guilt by association" and fostering "Catholic McCarthyism". [18] Its articles are calculated to inspire fear and hatred: "Homosexual activists aim to ‘destroy the family’, impose ‘totalitarianism’: gay pro-family activist." And its influence is far-reaching, with articles reprinted even by the Russian Orthodox Church, which has now become a Vatican ally in the attempt to demonise gays and end access to contraception. [19]

This is a powerful, lobbying network that will not go away. European reproductive rights are now under siege.

Notes

1. "Pro-Lifers Plan to Use Lisbon Treaty Innovation: 1 Million Citizens to Call for Recognition That Life Begins at Conception", Life Site News, 2011-08-14 http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/pro-lifers-plan-to-use-lisbon-treaty-innovation

2. "With close to 1.9 million signatures, 'One of Us' is Europe’s most successful citizen’s initiative!" J.C. von Krempach, J.D., 2013-11-12 http://www.turtlebayandbeyond.org/2013/abortion/with-close-to-1-9-million-signatures-one-of-us-is-europes-most-successful-citizens-initiative/

3. European Commission, European Citizens' Initiative, Official Register http://ec.europa.eu/citizens-initiative/public/initiatives/finalised/details/2012/000005

4. Julie Pernet, "Why 'One of us', the European anti-choice petition, should be monitored and tackled", European Humanist Federation, 2013-09-16 http://humanistfederation.eu/oneofus/

5. "Women and religious law", Concordat Watch. http://www.concordatwatch.eu/11701.834

6. Adam Michnik, "The Polish Witch-Hunt", New York Review of Books, 2007-06-28 http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2007/jun/28/the-polish-witch-hunt/
reposted at: http://www.cricketvoice.com/cricketforum2/index.php?topic=10722.0;wap2

Today, Poland is ruled by a coalition of three parties: post-Solidarity revanchists of the Law and Justice party; post-Communist provincial trouble-makers of the Self-Defense Party; and the heirs of pre–World War II chauvinist, xenophobic, and anti-Semitic groups that form the League of Polish Families. That coalition is supported by Radio Maryja, a Catholic nationalist radio station and media group that is fundamentalist both in its ethnic Polish nationalism and its commitment to Polish Catholic clericalism.

7. "Above all, Poland wants to define shared values - In support of banning abortion and homosexual propaganda", Agence Europe, 2007-03-02 http://www.ilga-europe.org/content/download/7044/43470/file/Poland-Summary-16%2003%2007-BartekLech.pdf.

8. "The basis for the foundation of a European federation 'One of Us”'to defend life in the EU are laid", One of Us, 2013-11-18 http://www.oneofus.eu/the-basis-for-the-foundation-of-a-european-federation-one-of-us-to-defend-life-in-the-eu-are-laid/

9. "European Commission rejects pro-life citizens’ initiative", CNA, 2014-05-28
http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/european-commission-rejects-pro-life-citizens-initiative/

10. "Pro-Life Campaigners Appeal to EU Court Over Vetoed Initiative", Zenit, 2014-07-28 http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/pro-life-campaigners-appeal-to-eu-court-over-vetoed-initiative
‘One of Us’ campaign files complaint over petition’s rejection, could embarrass EU, Life Site News, 2014-08-011 http://www.lifesitenews.com/opinion/one-of-us-campaign-files-complaint-over-petitions-rejection-could-embarrass

11. "How the defeat of a radical pro-abort EU proposal has strengthened European activists", Life Site News, 2014-01-10 http://www.lifesitenews.com/news/how-the-defeat-of-a-radical-pro-abort-eu-proposal-has-strengthened-european

12. "Massive Facebook, Twitter campaign helps defeat EU proposal to declare abortion a ‘human right’", Life Site News, 2013-12-10 http://www.lifesitenews.com/news/massive-facebook-twitter-campaign-helps-defeat-eu-proposal-to-declare-abort

13. "Vatican religious alliances to end family planning worldwide: timeline", Concordat Watch. http://www.concordatwatch.eu/topic-48937.934 

14. "Women’s rights threatened again by conservatives at the European Parliament," European Humanist Federation, 2013-12-03 http://humanistfederation.eu/womens-rights-threatened-again-by-conservatives-at-the-european-parliament/ 

15. La Manif pour Tous (The Manifesto for All) http://www.lamanifpourtous.fr/fr/qui-sommes-nous/les-associations-partenaires

Les associations partenaires (31)

Collectif des maires pour l’enfance
Fils de France
Dialogue et Humanisme
Les Adoptés            
Homovox.com                
Familles de France
Nouveau Féminisme Européen
Collectif « Tous pour le mariage »
Appel des Professionnels de l’Enfance
Alliance VITA
Confédération Nationale des Associations Familiales Catholiques
Comité Protestant Evangélique pour la Dignité Humaine
Cosette & Gavroche
Le Parti des enfants du Monde
Fédération nationale des Associations Familiales Protestantes
Médecins et pédiatres pour l’enfance
Fédération nationale de la médaille de la famille française
La Marche solidaire – Lyon
Juristes pour l’enfance
SOS Papa National
Appel des médecins de l’enfance et de l’adolescence
Les Musulmans pour l'Enfance
Les Adoptés pour l'enfance
La Manif des juristes
Les adoptés pour l'enfance
Ecologie Humaine
Les Parents adoptants
Womanattitude.com
Les Veilleurs
Les Mères-veilleuses
Les Sentinelles

16. From the introduction to the LifeSitenews letter of 2014-01-15.

17. "Catholic bloggers aim to purge dissenters", AP, 2010-10-24. http://www.nbcnews.com/id/39821248/ns/us_news-life/t/catholic-bloggers-aim-purge-dissenters/#.VhpEiWv9Z0w

18. John Gehring, "Faith in Public Life: Guilt by Association, Catholic McCarthyism and Growing Threats to the U.S. Bishops’ Anti-Poverty Mission", June 2013
http://www.faithinpubliclife.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/FPL-CCHD-report.pdf

19. More than a dozen reprinted articles can be found by entering "Life Site News" in the search box here: http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/
 

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Legislative proposal "One of Us" 2013-12-10


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