28th Feb 2024

Paris and Berlin key to including rape in gender-violence directive

  • 13 EU member states currently apply consent-based definitions to criminalise rape (Photo: Unsplash)
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Germany and France currently hold the key to unblocking negotiations on the EU directive to combat violence against women and domestic violence, which have stalled over the inclusion of rape in the final text.

"Only 'yes' means yes. This has to be clear, and it has to be included in the directive," stressed Iratxe García Pérez, leader of the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) during a debate in the parliament last week.

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The EU Commission proposed the legislation back on 8 March 2022 with the aim of creating some minimum standards and a common set of penalties across the EU to eradicate gender-based violence.

The Council adopted its position in June and the Parliament in July, but since the start of the trilogues, some member states have pushed the negotiations to the legal front, raising concerns about the EU's powers in this area — and delaying an agreement.

A new trilogue is scheduled for 13 December under the Spanish presidency of the council, and as of this Thursday (30 November), more member states are inclined to say no rather than yes to the inclusion of rape as non-consensual sex in the final text.

"Our minimum [the parliament's] is a consent-based rape legislation as stated in the Istanbul convention. We don't go lower than that, because any other legislation would not mean sufficiently protecting women and girls lives", Evin Incir (S&D), one of the leading MEPs in the file, told a small group of reporters in Brussels on Thursday.

A qualified majority is needed to adopt the directive, meaning that 15 delegations representing at least 65 percent of the EU population must vote in favour of the text.

So far, 11 countries have expressed their intention to support its inclusion: Belgium, Greece, Italy, Finland, Slovenia, Cyprus, Austria, Sweden, Luxembourg, Croatia, and Spain.

Now, all eyes are on two of the big EU countries that have opposed the inclusion of rape as non-consensual sex in the directive, France and Germany. And, more specifically, on two men, French PM Emmanuel Macron and German justice minister Marco Buschmann.

"Eliminating this [a consent-based definition of rape] would undermine the core of this landmark directive and its efficacy in affording protection for victims and survivors of rape for years to come," the NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) wrote in a letter to the French government last week.

For MEP Incir, their decision is a matter of "political will", as both the parliament's and the council's legal services have concluded that there are sufficient legal grounds to include rape in the EU directive.

Today, 13 member states apply consent-based definitions to criminalise rape, and 14 have yet to align their definitions with the international standards in this area, according to HRW.

If neither Germany nor France votes in favour of the consent-based legislation, there would still be a chance to pass the text, "but it would be more of a challenge," Incir said.

Parliament negotiators are expecting an agreement to be reached in the upcoming trilogues, but if not, there would still be time to have a deal before the end of the Spanish presidency or during the upcoming Belgian presidency, which starts on 1 January 2024.

The European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) estimates that the cost of gender-based violence is €366bn per year. Violence against women accounts for €289bn of this. The biggest costs come from physical and emotional consequences, criminal justice services, and lost economic output.

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