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Embargo on embryonic stem cell research threatens institutional crisis, say MEPs

Members of the European Parliament's Committee on industry, external trade, research and energy have accused the Council of violating the EU Treaties and the codecision rights of the European Parliament by adopting a temporary embargo on funding for human embryonic stem cell a...

Members of the European Parliament's Committee on industry, external trade, research and energy have accused the Council of violating the EU Treaties and the codecision rights of the European Parliament by adopting a temporary embargo on funding for human embryonic stem cell and human embryo research under the 6th Framework programme (FP6). Chairman of the committee, Carlos Westendorp Y Cabeza claimed that the embargo starting at the end of July ran counter to the agreement that followed the compromise adopted by both the Parliament and the Council to FP6 itself. 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. Several members questioned the constitutional legality of the decision 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 might possibly consult Parliament's legal service. The decision - itself a compromise in the Council - had been made to prevent a split between European countries that had the potential to divide Europe in two regarding its position on bio-ethics The Danish Minister for science, technology and innovation, Helge Sander, defended the decision to the committee, 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 17.5 billion euro available under FP6. 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 the Council that could not agree on a common formula and thus deleted the whole passage.

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