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17th Feb 2019

EU campaigners cry foul on sexual harassment

  • Tajani was not in Brussels for International Women's Day (Photo: European Parliament)

Campaigners are claiming the head of the European Parliament does not care enough about women's rights.

They cried foul on social media and in comments to press on Thursday (8 March), International Women's Day, as part of the wider #MeToo movement against sexual harassment, which began last year in the US.

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The group of MEPs, led by German Green Terry Reintke, had wanted to hand the EU parliament head, Antonio Tajani, a petition on Thursday signed by more than 120,000 people calling for a crackdown on abuse against women in EU institutions.

But Tajani was not there to accept it because he was in Madrid.

"President Tajani did not take time today to receive the more than 121,000 signatures calling to stop sexual harassment in the @Europarl_EN! #metooEU," Reintke said on Twitter.

She told EUobserver: "He cancelled the handing over of the collected signatures … on International Women's day. Regarding the relevance that the topic of sexual harassment has and the little progress we have seen in the past months, I find this unacceptable".

Politicians often use agenda excuses to get out of things they do not want to do.

In this case, the #MeToo campaigners used Tajani's agenda to give the impression that he had snubbed them on the big day.

But the details of the story painted the 64-year old conservative Italian in a less negative light.

Reintke told EUobserver that Tajani's office had informed her already on 1 March that he would be in Madrid and unable to accept the petition in Brussels on International Women's Day.

Tajani's office said the same on 5 March, at the start of this week, when the #MeToo group checked in to see if anything had changed.

Reintke, who was herself a victim of sexual harassment in the EU assembly, now aims to set a new date for the handover of the petition.

Her appeal includes demands to set up a central complaints office for reporting harassment cases for all EU institutions and greater accountability for perpetrators.

"I have been sexually harassed, just like millions of other women in the European Union," she said at an EU parliament debate on the issue last October.

She and four other MEPs, at the time, called on Tajani to order an independent audit on the extent of sexual harassment in the EU parliament and to create a "special dedicated committee" on the issue.

But there has been little action on the subject since then, as Tajani ponders whether to quit his EU post to return to Italian politics with the Forza Italia party of former Italian leader Silvio Berlusconi, a notorious sexist, who fell from power amid revelations that he had used underage prostitutes.

MEPs redouble appeal on sexual harassment

The EU parliament's internal chiefs have so far refused to introduce mandatory training on dealing with sexual harassment. MEPs have now asked for it again.

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A resolution demanding Saudi Arabia release prisoners and stop gender-based violence was passed by over 500 MEPs on Thursday in Strasbourg. They also demanded greater transparency over Brussels-based lobbying for the Saudis, following an EUobserver exclusive.

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The Bruges-based College of Europe is setting up private meetings with the EU institutions for seven ambassadors plus seven high-level officials from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

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