European elections: What are the bioethical stakes ?


At the approach of the European elections on 9th June, what are the bioethical stakes for the European Union ?

The national stakes are interfering with the European campaign to such an extent that it is not always easy to understand whether or not the proposals are within the scope of responsibility of the European Union. The EU has different levels of competence, which are defined in the treaties :

  • Some are exclusive (customs union, competition rules, common commercial policy, conservation of the biological resources of the sea) which the member States must comply with.
  • Others are shared between the EU and the States (agriculture, consumer protection, transport, trans-European networks, energy, freedom of movement, security and justice, common security stakes regarding public health, research, technological and space development, cooperation for development and humanitarian aid, in particular)
  • Or so-called support, coordination or supplemental, under the terms of which the EU may conduct actions in order to support, coordinate or supplement the action by member States.

Under the terms of Article 168 of the Treaty governing the Functioning of the EU, the Union holds, on the subject of public health, competence to support, coordinate or supplement the actions of member States.

It specifies that “The action of the EU is conducted in compliance with the responsibilities of the member States with respect to the definition of their health policy, as well as the organisation and supply of health services and medical care. The responsibilities of the member States include the management of health services and medical care, as well as the allocation of the resources assigned to them“.

Despite this precise legal framework, many lists of candidates issued by political groups wish to carry their militant ideas to the European level, whether or not they come under the competence of the EU ! A total of 38 lists have been submitted.

Under the current term, two regulation proposals pose particularly problematic ethical questions on which the European Parliament has been consulted.

  • Finally adopted by the European Council on 27th May, the new regulations governing substances of human origin (SOHO) presented by the European Commission are intended to revise the rules established over 20 years ago. The revision aims to ensure the safety and quality of the blood, tissues and cells used in health treatments and to facilitate cross-frontier exchanges within the EU. Contrary to the previous directive, an amendment added gametes and human embryos in the same way as exchanges of other human products. Human embryos are therefore considered as objects without any consideration of their belonging to the human community. According to that regulation, the products are checked for quality, thus opening the door to eugenics in the case of human embryos. Also, although the regulation specifies that the donations must not be paid for, it does allow compensation or refunds for the donor with a risk of facilitating a market for procreation.
  • The European parliament voted on 14th December 2023 in favour of the proposal initiated by the European Commission concerning the recognition of filiation documents between EU member States. Highly controversial, this regulation could seriously interfere with the national competence of member States for the establishment of filiation and children’s rights. Particularly since the proposal goes so far as to establish a European filiation certificate. Alliance VITA has issued an analytical notice denouncing the risk that France will be forced into accepting practices which it prohibits, in particular surrogate motherhood. The regulation is to be examined mid-June 2024 by the European Council, with a vote which must be unanimous. Several States have already expressed their opposition, including France.

What manifestoes ?

This analysis covers the main groups who have expressed themselves in their manifestoes on the stakes concerning bioethics.

I- Measures associated with European competence

Human trafficking and surrogate motherhood

The EU has just added surrogate motherhood to the list of human trafficking crimes during the revision of the directive on human trafficking established in 2011 .

The criminalisation of surrogate motherhood was obtained via an amendment submitted by MEP François-Xavier Bellamy, head of the “Les Républicains” group. The latter had made the fight against surrogate motherhood an item of its manifesto in 2019.

The amended text confirms the criminalisation of the exploitation of forced marriage, illegal adoption and surrogate motherhood. Several measures are also aimed at reinforcing the support for victims and the fight against human trafficking.

No group has submitted any proposals in favour of human trafficking. On the other hand, the “Reconquête” group mentions the objective of “Achieving the abolition of surrogate motherhood in all the EU member States” and the “PCF” expresses a firm position against it in the following terms :

“We are calling for action by the EU on all governments, in order to take all necessary measures whether legal or other, in order to prevent substitution motherhood throughout Europe and internationally. At the same time, we wish that criminal proceedings be brought against the clinics and establishments of the womb rental industry in all States worldwide, and that all publicity for that industry to be prohibited. The fight against reproductive exploitation of women must be firmly incorporated in EU law, notably through a revision of directive 2011/36/UE concerning the fight against human trafficking.”

European health research

“Les Républicains” group wish to encourage investment in European research programmes aimed at finding effective treatments against cancer, diseases associated with ageing, diabetes, endometriosis and mental diseases. The “Rassemblement National ” group supports “Reinforcing scientific exchanges : the fight against cancer, agronomic research, green chemistry, etc.

II- claims which do not come under European competence

Registration of the right for abortion within the European Charter of fundamental rights

The most emblematic proposal submitted by several groups concerns the registration in the European Charter of fundamental rights, of the right to abortion.

That position was expressed by the Presidential Majority (Renaissance /Horizons/Modem/UDI/Parti radical groups) La France Insoumise (LFI), Communist Party (PCF), Ecologie 2024 and Place Publique / Parti Socialiste

The absence of competence by the EU with respect to abortion has been confirmed on several occasions by the European institutions (European Parliament, European Commission and European Council). On 30th April 2012, Commissioner M. Dalli answered a question asked by the MEPs (E-002933/2012) :

“In view of the ethical, social and cultural aspects of abortion, it is up to the member States to elaborate and ensure compliance with their policies and their legislation on the subject. The Commission does not intend to supplement the national public health policies on the subject.”

Additionally, the provisions of the Treaty do not confer any additional latitude on the subject, with respect to action outside the Union whose main objective remains “The reduction and, eventually, the eradication of poverty” (Article 21). The European Court of Human Rights also recognised the diversity of the legislative solutions concerning abortion and the broad margin of appreciation of the member States on the subject.

As the modification of the European Charter of  Fundamental Rights is subject to the same procedure as the Treaties, a unanimous vote by the member States is required. In this case, and under the current conditions, such a unanimous result could not be achieved. Moreover, the principles of the European Charter must be linked to the EU competences.

On its part,” Reconquête” wishes to make birth rate a major European objective.

Several manifestoes contain proposals in support of “LGBTQIA+ rights”.

“Renaissance” proposes to prohibit conversion therapies. “France Insoumises”, “Ecologie 2024” and “PCF” have various proposals such as opening the right to adoption for all and repealing the bilateral treaties which prevent homosexual couples from adopting ; the recognition of rights and the depathologisation of trans people throughout Europe  for “PCF.” The “Ecologie 2024” and “La France Insoumise” added further proposals such as to allow the recognition between States of same sex couples, and also of trans parenthood; guaranteeing the free of charge provision of health care specific to transgender people, such as hormone treatments and surgical operations.


In principle, a vote is dictated both by the nature of the competences of the institution concerned by the vote, and by the convictions considered as priority by voters.

The European Parliament has limited competences on the subject of life. Certain groups are in fact centred exclusively on the question of Europe. In certain groups incidentally, it is possible to find, in eligible positions, certain candidates who have expressed their constant commitment in favour of the respect for life, and others who have taken up opposite positions, as recently, concerning surrogate motherhood, the registration of abortion in the constitution or on the subject of the end of life. But other subjects may legitimately be considered (security, immigration, social action, health, diplomacy, defence etc.).

In practice, other considerations come into play. Many voters choose more or less explicitly to vote more according to the national impact of their vote rather than according to what they expect in concrete terms from the MEPs. This point is controversial. Especially as certain groups play on the ambiguity of competences. For example by claiming “libertarian” positions which do not lead to normative consequences, since they are beyond the scope of competence of the European Parliament. It is more their cultural impact which is to be feared, because, for example, the LGBT claims have penetrated the European authorities.

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