Italian pro-life politician Luca Volontè captured the chairmanship of the European People’s Party (EPP) in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) last week, besting second-place finisher Jean-Claude Mignon of France, whom socially-liberal members had rallied around after their favored candidates faded.
Immediately upon assuming the chairmanship of the EPP, the chamber’s Christian Democratic grouping, Volontè was confronted with a number of challenges on controversial social issues. Due to coordinated EPP opposition, a report on “discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity” sponsored by Swiss socialist Andreas Gross was withdrawn and referred to the PACE Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights. Volontè had engineered a flood of some 70 substantive amendments to the bill, joined by Italian colleagues Renato Farina and Lorenzo Cesa, as well as Marco Gatti, representing San Marino, an independent microstate on the Italian peninsula.
EPP unity was lacking, however, when PACE adopted a report by British Labour parliamentarian Christine McCafferty commemorating the fifteenth anniversary of the Cairo conference on Population and Development as an “official Recommendation.” The report calls for universal access to “sexual and reproductive health rights,” “safe abortion services” and “age-appropriate, gender-sensitive sexuality and relationship information and education in schools.”
The Recommendation serves as an action plan not only for the 47 Council of Europe countries represented in PACE, but also affects nations throughout the developing world. It calls upon donor governments to “allocate 10% of ODA (Official Development Assistance) to population/sexual and reproductive health and rights” programs and mandates that recipients of such aid also devote two-thirds of their total “population/sexual and reproductive budget” from domestic sources.
While non-binding, the McCafferty document also calls upon the decision-making Committee of Ministers – comprised of member state foreign ministers – to consider “a European convention on sexual and reproductive health.”
The parliamentary tactics that worked with the Gross bill failed to stop the McCafferty proposal, as 60 amendments put forth by Volontè’s EPP allies and Irish independent Ronan Mullen failed to pass by varying margins, the closest falling short by three votes. Among the amendments that failed was language reaffirming the Cairo declaration’s rejection of abortion as a method of family planning.
Many EPP members did not support Volontè’s amendments and joined the socialists bloc, voting to accept the recommendation in its entirety. Internal opposition was led by France’s Mignon and Holland’s Corien Jonker, a favored candidate of social liberals within the EPP and an abortion-rights sympathizer.
Despite the evident split between EPP party members who adhere to the bloc’s founding principles and those that want to blur distinctions from progressive parties, the week closed with a victory for those who favor less activism from European institutions. Guido Raimondi was elevated to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), filling Italy’s seat and replacing a social liberal. Raimondi, a practicing Catholic, is respected across ideological lines for his past representation of Italy in front of ECHR and service as a legal adviser to the International Labour Organization. He also has been a noted jurist on the Court of Cassation, Italy’s court of last resort on issues other than those calling for constitutional interpretations.