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30th Jan 2023

MEP harassment case sheds light on flimsy support for victims

  • Mónica Silvana Gonzalez, socialist Spanish MEP, was sanctioned for harassment of three former assistants. (Photo: European Parliament)
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The European Parliament does not rule out mandatory anti-harassment training for MEPs — but has left questions of greater support for victims of bullying and abuse open-ended.

In a statement to EUobserver, it said a group dealing with gender equality and diversity may in the future "introduce mandatory trainings on harassment prevention."

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Some 262 current MEPs have undergone voluntary training sessions as of last December. Of those, 17 were carried out in the previous European Parliament mandate, it said.

The overall figure is likely higher because some MEPs have left, said a parliament spokesperson.

But questions of how many have completed the training but still harassed people, such as assistants, also remains unanswered.

"For privacy reasons, we cannot comment on which trainings the MEPs have taken or not, unless they decide themselves to do so," said a spokesperson.

This comes despite the European Parliament passing a resolution that demanded, among other things, to make public a list of MEPs who participated in anti-harassment trainings.

Last week, Spanish socialist MEP Mónica Silvana González was penalised for bullying three former assistants, a charge she has since denied and is appealing.

European Parliament president Roberta Metsola described González 's conduct as "psychological harassment" and then docked her daily allowance for 30 days [€338 per day] and temporarily suspended her from parliamentary activities.

González still keeps her monthly salary as well as other benefits and her penalty is suspended for duration of the appeal.

The parliament's political leadership, known as the Bureau, will have up to four weeks to deliberate. If it fails to make a decision within that time, then the penalty is considered null and void.

But both the sanction and the 16-months it took to reach a verdict may dissuade other victims of abuse from stepping forward.

Similar issues were highlighted in a 2017 report from an advisory committee dealing with complaints by assistants against MEPs. It noted that the length of time it took to reach a verdict reduced from one year to three months.

It is unclear if the latest 16-month procedure is an anomaly. When pressed, the European Parliament declined to explain. Instead, it says the parliament strives to resolve and prevent conflicts at an early stage.

And it notes that since 2018, a network of confidential counsellors was set up, which is available to staff members who would like to ask for advice and guidance.

But it also declined a request to disclose the latest activity report from the same committee dealing with harassment complaints by staff.

Meanwhile, the blowback is being felt among the victims.

One of the three complainants against González voiced her frustration at the process to Spanish media outlet El Confidencial.

"The small sanction of one month is disproportionate compared to the year, almost two, of my life in which I was destroyed professionally and personally and also damaged my health," she said.

El Confidencial says the assistant had arrived in the summer of 2020 with a one-year contract.

The paper, which has had access to an internal report of the case, says the assistant was given work that did not correspond to her profile or professional duties.

This included babysitting González's daughter and dealing with electricity bills, says the paper.

Sanctions against offending MEPs are also a rarity.

Luxembourg liberal MEP Monica Semedo had her daily allowance docked for 15 days in January 2021, following harassment complaints from her accredited assistants.

The European Parliament had also accused Maria João Rodrigues, a Portuguese socialist, of psychological harassment against her parliamentary assistant in April 2019.

Rodrigues was given a reprimand.

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