189 is definitely not a perfect number. It could have been 100 – as in the “100 days to deliver a new vaccine”, or two – as in “two weeks to flatten the curve” or three – as in “three months to save the NHS”, or other such winning number. But it happened to be 189 doctors and scientists in total, mostly from Europe, supported by colleagues from the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada and Israel, who got together to reach out to the European legislative and sound the alarm on the issue of treatment of children during the COVID pandemic.
In January 2022, while the whole world was still gripped by ever-tightening lockdowns and mandates, an ad-hoc group of scientists – including such illustrious names as Robert Malone, Peter McCullough, Matthias Desmet, Christian Perronne, Geert Vanden Bossche, Paul Alexander, Simone Gold, Tess Lawrie, Martin Zizi and Harvey Risch – decided to open a procedure before the highest authority representing the people in the European Union on the worrying situation of children.
Treated as walking biohazards by layers of the society, as liability by the educational system and as means to reach policy targets by the politicians, children ended up at the very bottom of policy priorities in the past two years. A stark reminder of the reason which led in the first place to their recognition as one of the most vulnerable categories of our society and the reason why constitutions, fundamental rights, and basic laws in almost every national and supranational fora recognise “children’s best interests” as a fundamental right.
In the European Union (EU), this protection is enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights at Article 24 – The Rights of the Child. It requires public authorities or private institutions to have the child’s best interests as a primary consideration in all actions relating to children, whether legislative or administrative.
But why go to the European Parliament (EP)? Probably the most popular of the EU institutions, the EP is considered a foundational stone of European democracy, expressing the will of people and representing its interests. It also fulfils the quintessential democratic function of scrutiny over the executive through its powers of censure and oversight of the executive’s actions. Its 705 Members are directly elected by the peoples of Europe, not along national lines, but along EU-wide political families. This contrasts with the European Council, which brings together national Ministers, thus representing governmental, rather than popular, interests. The European Commission – considered the ‘executive’ arm of the EU technocratic machine – is composed of 27 Commissioners, one per each Member State, nominated by the party or coalition in power in each of the 27 and vetted by the European Parliament. The Commission is supposed to be the “communitary” institution par excellence, promoting the EU-wide – as opposed to national or political groups’ – interests, but in reality pushing the plan of the prevailing pan-European political groups dominating the EU political environment.
Given the Parliament’s role as guarantor of European democracy, it is no surprise that the Charter entrusted this institution above all other with the critical role of translating in practice one of the indispensable attributes of democracy – the right to petition. Expounded over not less than three articles of the EU Treaties (Articles 20, 24 and 227), and one in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (Article 44), the right to petition is considered a cornerstone of the European democracy.
A somewhat misleading notion, in the EU legal framework the petition is more than a mere complaint before a public administration body. By making it a fundamental right of the Union, the petition has become more akin to a pre-judicial procedure, in which the European Parliament must recognise the citizens’ right to complain and receive an answer on any issue that falls within the European Union’s scope of action. When that is the case, the Parliament, through its Committee on Petitions (PETI), must examine that complaint or request. This is a unique hallmark of the EU democracy.
According to the Parliament’s own Rules of Procedure, a series of actions should ensue following the admission of a petition. Analysis and debate within PETI, consultations of the European Commission and of competent parliamentary committees, hearings (though indeed not compulsory) with the petitioners, and even fact-finding missions, are a toolbox meant to allow the Members a first-degree understanding of the claims. PETI has the right to independently deliberate which petition deserves to be heard, which petition can be dealt with in a written procedure only, and which petition should be rapidly expedited to closure.
If admitted, a petition must be translated in all official languages of the Union – 24 currently – and the public is enabled to support it, if they so wish, via an anonymous voting procedure taking place electronically on the Parliament’s own website. The latter also marks a notable difference with classical petitions, which usually require a certain number of signatures of support in order to be admitted in the first place. In the case of EU petitions, the only threshold to admission is whether the issue they purport to falls squarely within the EU’s ambit of action. Whether supported by one person or a hundred thousand, petitions have an equal right to be heard and analysed by PETI.
When carrying out a search on the Parliament’s Petitions Portal, out of a total of approximately 1400 petitions lodged in 2021, 262 were COVID-related. Of these, the vast majority – 247 (95%) – have been admitted, and the rest were declared inadmissible. The petitions declared inadmissible dealt mostly with concerns over the respect of fundamental rights in respect of issues such as police violence, mandatory vaccination, closing of schools, or even allegations of genocide. By closing them the Parliament showed that it considers such issues to fall outside the scope of interest of the EU.
Judging by the appearance of a 95% admission rate, one would think that the COVID-related complaints were rather successful. On a deeper look, it turns out that nearly 90% of the petitions declared admissible, the overwhelming majority of which refer to the (in)famous Digital Green Certificate, were actually closed without any follow up. The remaining few (23 in total) that are open and available for supporters ask for actions such as mandatory vaccination or the introduction of more safety measures to protect against the spread of the virus, or complain about the insufficient use of pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical measures to stop the spread of the virus. These will be put forth for in-depth analysis and debate by the Members, will result in proposals for remedial action and possibly lead to some parliamentary Resolutions.
The analysis of the Parliament’s registry of documents – the institution praising itself with a high level of transparency and accountability – reveals some interesting facts about the hearings carried out every year. PETI devotes about half the time of its monthly meetings to hearing a dozen or so plaintiffs per meeting, roughly around 150 petitions heard every year. This represents about 10%-12% of the total number of petitions lodged in a year, which seats at roughly 1400. Skimming through the subject of these hearings, one can notice that PETI seems to place particular importance on environmental concerns, an overwhelming majority of hearings being about protection of the wildlife and habitat, but also on animal welfare, data protection, consumer protection, or LGBTQI rights. In 2022 PETI held debates and heard a few COVID-related petitions, principally about access to vaccines and vaccine contracts.
189 is definitely not a perfect number, and the subject of children safety seems not to be prominent enough as to deserve the attention of the Members. At least one can wonder if this is the reason why the action of this group of scientists seems to have hit deaf ears in the European institutions. None of the above procedures was followed in the case of the petition on children, despite it being declared admissible.
Lodged on January 25, no news was given to the petitioners until August 22 when, via an automatic notification by the Portal (who thus proved to be more user-friendly towards the plaintiffs than the distinguished Members themselves), the lead-signatory, Prof. Dr. Martin Zizi, learned that the petition had been closed without assessment in substance and without follow up. Weeks of fervent exchanges with the PETI Secretariat led to the fated date of October 5, when a letter signed by the Chairwoman of the PETI Committee dryly informed Dr. Zizi of two things. 1. Congratulations, the Committee declared your petition admissible. 2. Unfortunately, the Committee closed your petition without further ado, considering that no in-depth analysis of the claims is needed, given that the EU has done a lot when it comes to the mandatory vaccination of children in general and to speed up the production and distribution of COVID vaccines, in particular.
When Dr. Zizi insisted with more questions on the “how’s” and “why’s” of this decision, the PETI Secretariat flatly responded that there had been internal discussions and the decision was ‘political’. When pressed for more explanations on the mysterious nature of the ‘political’ decision, PETI and the Secretariat remained quiet and no further enlightenment on the issue has been received since. Rumours from inside seem to suggest that the political groups had taken the ‘political line’ that there is nothing wrong with the policy on COVID vaccines and that therefore any claim relating to this subject must be quashed without follow up.
About the same time that PETI decided to close the petition on the fundamental rights of children without consideration, the same Committee loaned a concerned ear to hearing, among others, a complaint about the management of brown bears in Romania (237 supporters), one requesting free access to bathrooms across the EU (two supporters), one on noise pollution in the vicinity of airports (159 supporters), one on the unfortunate banning of certain tattoo inks by the European legislation (with an astounding 178,201 supporters), or yet again one on renaming the European Parliament Plenary Room in Brussels (17,559 supporters).
While one can only revel in the Parliament’s deep concern and eager determination to ensure due process to hearing on such outstanding matters as wild habitat or the ink quality impressed on human tissue, there is little understanding as to why the (mis)treatment – medical, physical and psychological – of children, as demonstrated by 189 professionally-savvy and morally impeccable professionals in the field of medicine and evidenced by no less than 126 scientific references to peer-reviewed studies, does not seem to raise to the same level of concern.
The presentation of the petition made public on Parliament’s public website sums up the complaint as a set of “arguments against the vaccination of children against COVID-19 and other protection measures targeting children”, thus carefully leading the opinion of the reader toward believing that this is the deed of some kind of ‘conspiratorial’, ‘anti-vaxxer’ groupie. The summary acknowledges, in all fairness, the central argument of the signatories, that it “is unethical and in contradiction to international Conventions and Treaties to subject children to the risks – known and unknown – of COVID-19 vaccination when this is done not for their own benefit, but for the protection of high-risk adults”. However, it misses – possibly intentionally – the central claim of the petition, i.e., the alleged violation of the fundamental right of protecting the children in the application of policies and measures to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. The omission does not seem fortuitous. It has a useful role in placing the petition in the grey zone of potentially meaningless, gibberish complaints, the type of which the European Parliament receives scores every year, and the fate of which the honourable Members cannot possibly be bothered to explore in detail, especially with so many urgently important complaints on animal and humans’ tattoo welfare waiting to be treated.
Little convinced of the judicious character and expeditious nature of the decision, on October 11 Dr. Zizi went on to complain to the European Ombudsman. Pro memoria, this function is currently held by Ms. Emily O’Reilly, the very same institution and person who triggered the alarm on what has become in the meantime a much-debated media outrage around the vaccine contracts in Europe. Concluded by the European Commission on behalf of European states – presumably to throw in the collective weight of the 27 in order to lower the prices – contracts for access to 4.6 billion doses were signed by the Commission. To be clear: 4.6 billion doses means 10 doses for each EU citizen. The vast majority of these doses are to be provided by Pfizer, whose CEO seems to have exchanged abundantly via text messaging with Mrs. von der Leyen, the EU Commission’s President, in the run up to the conclusion of billions worth contracts. Ms. O’Reilly intervened in the story after being alerted by a journalist complaining about the refusal to get access to the mentioned text messages by the European Commission. The Ombudswoman granted cause to the plaintiff, found the European Commission in default, and requested it to correct its decision.
Lightening does not strike twice, it seems. On 3 November the decision of the Ombudswoman on Dr. Zizi’s complaint arrived, informing, in a short and matter-of-fact email, that the institution does not find itself competent on the matter, which is, in its view, of a political rather than administrative nature – the Ombudsman’s mandate being limited to uncovering maladministration only. Where there is no administrative decision, there cannot be maladministration.
In other words, the Parliament skilfully circumvented its constitutional obligation to treat a citizens’ petition by taking the ‘political’ decision to not examine it, and it further circumvented an appeal before the Ombudsman by having declared this decision … ‘political’.
The story does not end here, as whatever the outcome, Dr. Zizi is resolute in that the matter should follow its course before a court of law. An alternative route could be through the works of the Parliament’s special committee on COVID – COVI (equally imposed to the political establishment by a citizens’ petition which saw the mobilisation of over 10,000 signatures by associations and individuals from over twenty EU countries) which continue through May 2023, and where the signatories still hope to obtain a hearing. A small but determined group of EP Members active in COVI vowed to help bring truth to the ears of decision-makers come what may.
The cause of children is worth both the risks and the efforts. Or rather, the signatories of the petition see little choice than to fight to the end in order to re-establish what they perceive as the full respect of a God-given right for our children, one which is not to be floundered by transient events, nor made subject to the whim of temporary decision-makers who should owe their allegiance to the people and not to political or corporate interests.
Fundamental rights are supposed to be guaranteed irrespective of the political circumstances. Children are supposed to be protected in all circumstances. Restoring this reality in our society has become paramount.
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Author: Amy Kelly
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