29th Nov 2021

Centre-right MEPs abstain on gender-violence vote

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Around 90 centre-right European People's Party (EPP) lawmakers abstained in a vote to list gender-based violence a crime under EU law.

Representing the European Parliament's largest political group, the abstaining EPP MEPs include leader Manfred Weber and European Parliament vice-presidents Roberta Metsola and Rainer Wieland - although almost as many EPP MEPs voted in favour.

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Metsola and Wieland, however, had also voted against far-right amendments claiming gender violence is not a crime.

Despite the large-scale EPP abstentions, EU lawmakers on Thursday (16 September) still managed to adopt a demand for the European Commission to introduce "targeted legislation and policies to address all forms of violence and discrimination based on gender."

It also requested the commission list gender-based violence as a crime under the EU treaties - noting that one third of women in the EU have experienced violence with around 50 killed weekly. The final tally saw 427 votes in favour, 119 against, with 140 abstentions.

The result follows on from the state of the union speech earlier this week where European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen announced a new law to combat violence against women before the end of the year.

But it also comes on the back of rejected amendments, tabled by conservative and far-right MEPs, and largely supported by Polish conservatives and Hungarian right-wingers, seeking to ultimately ban abortions and strike off gender violence as a crime.

Authors of such amendments include Polish conservative MEPs Jadwiga Wiśniewska and Joachim Brudziński, Romanian conservative Cristian Terheşm, along with far-right Italian MEP Nicola Procaccini and Spanish Vox MEP Margarita de la Pisa Carrión.

In one amendment they said that the "alleged offence of gender-based violence" should not be listed as a crime - a view rejected by almost everyone including the centre-right EPP.

The same grouping had also sought to have abortion recognised as "the most severe form of violence", a proposal that attracted support from around a dozen EPP MEPs as well as Maltese socialist Alex Agius Saliba.

The support on such amendments from Polish nationalist-conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party MEPs point to wider issues in Poland.

On Thursday, the Strasbourg-based human rights watchdog Council of Europe, in a report said Poland is not doing enough to prevent and combat violence against women and girls.

It demanded, among other things, that Poland reform all sexual offences in the Penal Code to "fully incorporate the notion of freely-given consent and to ensure appropriate sanctions for all sexual acts without the consent of the victim".

In an emailed statement, Amnesty International's Monica Costa Riba said the Council of Europe report is a confirmation of "the government's deeply misogynistic attitudes" towards women and girls.

"The dangers they face are getting worse," she said.

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Violence against women costs EU €290bn a year

The European Institute for Gender Equality has estimated that the annual cost of gender-based violence against women in the EU at €290bn. One-in-three women in the EU aged 15 or over has experienced physical and/or sexual violence.

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