29th Sep 2023

Raw emotion over Spain's sexual consent law at EU meeting

  • The debate with the Spanish minister Irene Montero (r) was marked by frequent interruptions, mike-cuts, screams, and cries of "shame!" (Photo: European Parliament)
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Spain's sexual consent law sparked raw emotions in the European Parliament on Tuesday (19 June), with mike-cuts, screams, and cries of "shame!".

"There is no room for national politics in here," said Polish socialist MEP and chair of the women's rights committee Robert Biedroń ahead of the discussion.

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  • Spanish far-right MEP Hermann Tertsch, who is also not a member of the committee, was expelled after interrupting the session (Photo: Vox)

The meeting, with Spain's gender-issues minister Irene Montero, was meant to cover the priorities of the Spanish EU presidency.

And given the heated context, Biedroń warned he would cut anyone trying to "kidnap" the agenda.

But for all that, Spanish centre-right lawmaker Rosa Estarás was the first to mention the 'Only Yes Means Yes' law in Spain in her intervention, before being quickly cut off by Biedroń.

"You are not speaking on the topic," Biedroń said. "We have a guest [the Spanish minister], please behave," he added.

Spain's 'Only Yes Means Yes' law aimed to legally clarify that any sexual assault would be classified as rape if there was no explicit consent — even without proof of violence or threat.

But it has caused controversy due to a loophole, which led to some 1,200 offenders having their terms reduced, according to new figures revealed on Tuesday by the National Council for the Judiciary.

It comes amid a wider Spanish reckoning with sexism and misogyny after its top football chief, Luis Rubiales, gave a non-consensual public kiss to one of the stars of Spain's women's soccer team when they won the World Cup.

And European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has also put the painful issues on the EU agenda, by saying in her recent annual speech that she would like to cast into law a basic principle: "No, means no."

Estarás, the MEP, tried to speak about Spanish politics on several occasions, but her microphone was repeatedly cut and Biedroń threatened to exclude her from the meeting.

"If you want to do your local national politics go to your national parliaments. This is the European Parliament," Biedroń said.

"You are getting crazy about your national politics," he said to Estarás.

In a sign of fraying nerves, German socialist MEP Maria Noichl, whose speech was held up by the Biedroń-Estarás exchange, also invited Estarás to leave the room.

But other MEPs, from Spain and further afield, wouldn't let things go.

'Only Yes Means Yes' has had "very negative consequences", said Spanish liberal MEP María Soraya Rodríguez Ramos.

Rodríguez Ramos asked the visiting Spanish gender-issues minister what measures she planned to compensate victims who have seen their perpetrators' sentence reduced.

And the Spanish MEP slammed the Polish committee chair for failing to grasp the importance of the topics at hand.

"We talk a lot about Poland when their measures are leading to women dying in hospitals and the chair [of the committee] who is Polish has never understood that that is a national policy that affects everyone and that affects all 27 member states," she said.

Polish centre-right MEP Elżbieta Łukacijewska also spoke about Spanish politics and Montero's controversial sexual consent law.

Spanish conservative Gabriel Mato, who is not a member of the women's committee, slammed Biedroń for being "discriminating" and then his microphone was cut.

"Shame," some MEPs cried out after this incident.

A Spanish far-right MEP, Hermann Tertsch, who is also not a member of the committee, was expelled after interrupting the session with placard-waving and shouting.

"Please colleagues, calm down. I know there are a lot of emotions," Biedroń also said at one point, telling Spain's Montero that such a heated debate "rarely" happened in his committee.

But despite her dressing down, Estarás said she would write to EU Parliament president Roberta Metsola to denounce Biedroń's lack of neutrality and file a complaint.

"Several people here spoke about Spain, Rubiales, the committee, the [parliament's] mission… Everyone got a turn except me," she said.

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