Sexual violence against women is a most brutal crime, yet still remains a taboo subject in many countries. It is estimated that almost every other woman in Europe suffers gender-based violence at some point in her life, with 1 in 5 victims of male domestic violence, and 1 in 10 victims of rape or forced sexual acts.
Yet across the EU rape is one of the least reported crimes, with less than 10% of rapes being reported and far fewer cases ending in a conviction. While rape is criminalised in all 27 EU Member States, some have a broader definition of rape than others. Many EU countries still require proof of physical resistance or do not cover all forms of rape.
I was therefore very happy to host an event at the European Parliament this morning to launch the latest report into how EU countries are tackling this hateful crime.
Hosting event at European Parliament to launch 2013 EWL Barometer on Rape
The European Women’s Lobby Barometer on Rape 2013 looks at legislation and data collection in 32 countries. It compares them with the minimum standards for sexual violence and rape set by the Istanbul Convention (the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women, adopted in 2011 and currently being ratified).
The EWL found that just 5 countries have legislation that corresponds to the Istanbul Convention definition: the UK and the Netherlands who have “better legislation”, and Ireland, Italy and Turkey who meet minimum standards. The majority of countries (21) need to improve their legislation, recognising lack of consent as an essential element in determining rape and sexual abuse. Six countries need to urgently change their laws (Bulgaria, Hungary, Lithuania, Malta, Serbia and Ukraine).
We spent this morning casting our votes for the President of the European Parliament, an important position, the holder of which chairs the meetings of the European Parliament and is often seen as the public face of the European Parliament to the outside world. Many are those who aspire to its lofty height, but as ever few are chosen. Thise who do arrive usually get there by a mixture of ambition and stealth and almost always as a result of deals made in backrooms between the political groups.
This time the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) has carved the position up with the European People’s Party (EPP) the centre-right group, still the largest group in the Parliament even though the Tories have left to set up on their own with a few cronies. The deal was that the EPP have the President for the first half of the parliamentary term and the socialists/democrats for the second two and a half years. So it’s now the turn of the EPP until the end of December 2011.
This is all very well except that the President of the Parliament is elected by MEPs by secret ballot – the very process we have been taking part in today. There were, in fact, two candidates, which I suppose was some kind of nod in the direction of democracy: Polish Jerzy Buzek from the EPP and Eva-Britt Svensson, a Swedish MEP from the GUE (left green) group. I have worked with Eva-Britt for many years on the Women’s Committee where she has done much good work, including gaining the backing of the European Parliament for the UNIFEM campaign against violence against women. Eva-Britt demonstrated her commitment to women’s rights by talking about the subject in her address to the Parliament prior to the vote.
Eva-Britt Svensson, Swedish MEP
Yet the forces behind the deals won out in the end by a very substantial margin – Mr Buzek had 555 votes to Eva-Britt’s 89. This is the full story according to the European Parliament news service
We had another meeting of the S&D Group this week. You may not be surprised to know that the decision on the Commission President, which I reported on a few days ago, will be postponed until after the summer recess. I must say I never doubted that it would be, though the leadership of the S&D Group is hailing this a a “massive victory” to quote President Martin Schulz.
President Martin Schulz
Martin Schulz has, however, asked that there is some element of nascent democracy in the process, in that he wants the President of the Commission designate (designate in that there is no other candidate) , Jose Manuel Barosso, to appear at each of the political groups in the European Parliament with his manifesto for the next five years. Groups can then agree his nomination if they find him convincing. This strikes me as a good idea and is not unlike the “confirmation” hearings currently held by European Parliament Committees regarding individual Commissioners.
But the Swedish Presidency do not agree with even this modicum of involvement by the European Parliament and the centre-right Swedish Prime Minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt, wants to formalise the appointment of Commission President himself. He is even intending to write to all heads of government in the EU to ask them to support Barosso. It is beginning ot look as if this important decision will be taken by post rather than at a summit meeting.
None of this is good news for the EU and European democracy. I can’t believe it would hurt to have a more open process, especially as there is only one name in the field.