SEXUAL AND REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS AND HEALTH IN CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE
The meeting was especially important in the context of the EU enlargement and considering the situation of countries like Malta and Poland, which have included restrictive clauses regarding abortion laws in the Accession Treaty. Members of NGOs expressed their support to the report by MEP Anne van Lancker (Belgium) on women's sexual and reproductive health and rights, adopted in July 2002, with whom they debated the limits of EU's sphere of competence in this field. On the controversial issue of abortion, Anne van Lancker explained that her report was covered by the subsidiarity principle, which means that it included simple recommendations to countries, not imposing them any obligations in their national laws. But some participants required more than mere recommendations, as they complained - in the case of Poland, for instance - about the influence of conservative policies and of moral values in society and denounced barriers to contraception and sexual rights, "a low priority" in the enlargement process.
In the same context, Polish representatives opposed the inclusion of "God in the Constitution", to which Anne can Lancker, as Member of the European Convention, replied that this risk was excluded as the new Constitutional Treaty would include the wording of the Charter of Fundamental Rights in its preamble. Still on the Declarations included in the Treaty by Malta and Poland, some participants were disappointed at how easily the European Commission accepted those waivers, a question that was addressed by Elisabeth Schroedter (Germany) in the context of the enlargement negotiations, as member of the EP Foreign Affairs Committee.
Participants to the meeting explained the situation of women in different countries and asked for support from the EU at this crucial stage. The organiser of the meeting, Genevieve Fraisse, provided information on problems connected to abortion, stressing that it should not be seen as a contraceptive, while Anna Karamanou (Greece), Chair of the Committee on Women's Rights, spoke about reproductive health and rights as fundamental Human Rights of women, which should be an important part of the political agenda of the EU and of national governments.
These issues are addressed by the EU Budget, not only in the European context but also within the help to developing countries. But the candidate and partner countries should have a specific support from the EU to family planning and sexual rights policies. That is why another MEP, Ulla Margrethe Sandbaek (Denmark), author of a recent report on sexual and reproductive rights and health in developing countries, advised members of ASTRA to ask the European Commission to provide for a specific line in the Draft Budget 2004 on support to NGOs which promote sexual and reproductive rights of women in candidate and partner countries.
Information from: Committee on Women's Rights and Equal Opportunities and ASTRA Network: http://www.astra.org.pl