December 6. 2023. 5:49

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Spanish minister affirms support for EU directive to stop violence against women

As EU institutions continue negotiations on the directive to combat violence against women, Irene Montero, Spain’s acting Minister for Equality, affirmed her commitment to addressing gender-based violence in the current presidency of the Council.

“There is no equality, real equality, without women’s lives being free of violence and it is an essential priority to protect the rights and values of the EU and for this presidency,” Montero told the European Parliament’s women’s rights committee (FEMM) on Tuesday (19 September).

Improving and designing public policies to combat gender-based violence is one of the priorities of Spain’s term at the helm of the rotating presidency of the EU Council, which it will hold until the end of 2023.

According to the EU barometer, half of women in the EU have experienced sexual harassment at some point in their lifetime and 44% of women have suffered psychological violence from their partner.

Despite gender-based violence being a pressing issue in the European Union, there is currently no legal instrument to address this issue at the EU level.

On 8 March 2022 – International Women’s Day – the Commission proposed a directive to combat violence against women which is currently being negotiated between the Parliament, the Commission and the Council.

The directive seeks to ensure a minimum level of protection across the EU against such violence – but as of the start of interinstitutional negotiations in July, the definition of rape has been a point of contestation.

Defining rape

The Parliament’s mandate, prepared by LIBE and FEMM committees includes a consent-based definition of rape, tougher rules on cyber violence, and better support for victims. This seeks to broaden the Commission’s proposal, introducing case-by-case assessments for consent and expanding the list of aggravating circumstances for offences.

The Council, however, removed Article 5 of the Commission’s proposal that considered a non-consensual sex act as a criminal offence. A move that aroused critics in the Parliament and the Commission, which consider that rape should be included in the directive.

Rape is not included in the list of Euro-crimes, offences which, by definition in the Treaty, deserve to be dealt with at the EU level because of their particularly serious nature and their cross-border dimension – as such, it is harder to find a legal ground.

While some member states have said there is no legal basis for it, the Commission and the Parliament have said the opposite.

“No, means no,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said during her State of the Union speech on Wednesday (13 September), adding that there can be no true equality without freedom from violence.

While Montero and members of the Parliament welcomed these words, they acknowledged that finding common ground with the Council – the next step to approve the directive – is not going to be easy.

To move forward, gender-based violence must be included in the list of Euro-crimes, Spanish Liberal MEP Soraya Rodríguez told Montero in the meeting.

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