Sunday

18th Aug 2019

Frustrated EU parliament staffers set up #Metoo blog

  • The '#MeTooEP blog' will be a platform for EU parliament staff to anonymously tell stories of sexual harassment (Photo: European Parliament)

A group of European Parliament employees have set up a website to publish stories from colleagues who have experienced sexual harassment – amidst frustration that the parliament is not improving the means of redress for vulnerable employees swiftly enough.

The website, in the form of a blog, is scheduled to launch next week, on 9 October.

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  • Women working in the European Parliament may fear for their career if they report harassment by MEPs (Photo: European Parliament)

"The objective is to shed light on what is really going on," said Anni Hirvela, assistant to liberal MEP Angelika Mlinar.

She said some 15 to 20 parliament workers were involved in the "movement", which wants to "fight the sexual harassment going on in the European Parliament".

"It is being pushed under the rug," Hirvela told EUobserver.

The blog's launch was originally scheduled for the first week of September, but postponed to 9 October, in the hope that it will get more attention.

It will be one year ago this month that the #Metoo movement began in earnest, after sexual abuse accusations against Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein surfaced.

That same month, the plenary session of the EU parliament adopted a resolution that included a wish list of measures, aimed at preventing sexual harassment in the parliament's own corridors.

Jeanne Ponte, assistant to the French MEP Edouard Martin, told EUobserver that she thought not much had changed since then.

"We see it is not a priority. The priority is the new parliament elections," she noted.

While MEPs' assistants normally remain on the background, Ponte became the centre of some media attention in October 2017, when she revealed she had collected testimonies from parliament staff about cases of harassment.

She wrote the stories in a notebook, which she said became a "place for solidarity".

Anonymous

The '#MeTooEP blog' is a kind of digital version of Ponte's notebook.

It will not contain names, of neither victim nor accused.

The goal is more to show other victims that they are not alone, and to maintain political pressure, said Ponte.

"Just because the media pressure of Hollywood is behind us, does not mean it is not still happening," she said.

Ponte said that some 30 stories had already been collected.

Hirvela added that some of the testimonies were "really heartbreaking", and noted that she too had experienced a form of sexual harassment.

"My story will be there," she said.

EU bubble

Both assistants said that staffers who experienced sexual harassment often do not report it.

Hirvela noted that many of the victims are in a vulnerable position, because they are often young and at the start of their professional life.

"The EU bubble is very small. One wrong turn can cause an end to a career. Brussels is a small city," she said.

Ponte also noted that the fact that the parliament has two different committees that deal with harassment "creates confusion about who to contact".

There is a so-called advisory committee dealing with complaints of harassment between accredited parliament assistants and members of parliament, plus a staff advisory committee for parliament staff on harassment prevention.

"Instead of two committees there should be one body dealing with harassment," Ponte suggested.

She added that there were also many potential situations that were not covered by either committee.

Until recently, the advisory committee consisted of three MEPs, one representative on behalf of assistants, and one on behalf of the parliament's administration.

The parliament recently decided to add another assistant representative.

But to Ponte, that does not solve the fact that the committee ultimately consists of three politicians.

"If you are a victim of your MEP, you don't go to a committee with three MEPs. You want to see a therapist or lawyer," she noted.

A majority of MEPs supported a resolution last April, which said that "training on sexual and psychological harassment should be compulsory for all staff and members of parliament, including the European Parliament".

However, such trainings on sexual harassment currently are only voluntary for MEPs.

Parliament 'working hard'

On Wednesday (3 October), the European Parliament announced that it send out invitations next week for pilot courses for MEPs on harassment prevention, to take place in November and December.

"These courses will aim to teach respect and dignity at work," the parliament said in a press statement.

It also announced that "special confidential counsellors" will be made available for assistants and other staff.

"We are working hard to safeguard an open and inclusive work environment, free from any abuse of power," said EU parliament president Antonio Tajani.

A parliament spokeswoman told EUobserver that the advisory committee has dealt with on average three to four cases per year.

In five cases, which involved two MEPs, the committee recommended sanctions, which the president accepted.

This article has been updated on Tuesday 9 October with a link to the blog

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Defence minister Michael Fallon resigned over sexual harassment allegations, amid a growing scandal that could weaken the government in the middle of crucial Brexit talks.

Only 19 of 751 MEPs enrol for anti-harassment course

While the course is voluntary, the number of MEPs who signed up stands in stark contrast with the number of MEPs who said they supported such remedies in the wake of the #metoo movement.

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