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21st Jan 2019

Only 19 of 751 MEPs enrol for anti-harassment course

  • Should courses to prevent sexual harassment be mandatory for all MEPs? (Photo: European Parliament)

Of the 751 members of the European Parliament, just 19 have signed up for a pilot training course on how to recognise and prevent harassment at the workplace.

The first of the courses begins on Wednesday (7 November).

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A spokeswoman of the parliament revealed to EUobserver by email the figure – representing 2.5 percent of all parliamentarians.

While the course is voluntary and designed as a trial run for a future training course, the number of MEPs who signed up stands in stark contrast with the number of MEPs who said they supported such remedies.

A resolution supported by 580 MEPs in October 2017 said that there should be mandatory training for MEPs to increase awareness of sexual harassment.

In September, a smaller share of MEPs, but still a large majority of 528 MEPs supported another text which said "training on sexual and psychological harassment should be compulsory for all staff and members of parliament, including the European Parliament".

On 9 October, an invitation email was sent to MEPs, with six possible time slots for the training – two on Wednesday, and four in December.

It was not immediately clear from the parliament spokeswoman's email if the 19 who signed up are attending one of the two pilot training courses on Wednesday, or one of the six.

"The European Parliament has pledged to become a workplace that combats inappropriate behaviour, including psychological and sexual harassment," the invitation email said.

"If you believe that you can have a role in making this happen, sign up to this training course designed for MEPs," it said.

"As a participant, you will be able to shape the training course, to be offered to all MEPs in the future," it added.

On Tuesday (6 November), a reminder email was sent to say there were still places available on Wednesday.

The pilot course was set up in response to the 2017 resolution, which in turn was triggered by the #Metoo movement.

The parliament spokeswoman noted that the course was about all types of harassment, not only sexual harassment.

According to the invitation letter, the course had been designed as part of the "Roadmap for preventive and early support measures dealing with conflict and harassment", a plan endorsed by the parliament's Bureau – but kept secret by the parliament's secretary-general.

The Bureau is the organisation responsible for the internal workings of the parliament.

Its members are EU parliament president Antonio Tajani, the 14 vice-presidents, and five MEPs with the title quaestor.

Whether training for MEPs could be made mandatory was subject of discussion at a Bureau meeting of 2 July 2018.

According to the meeting's minutes, Slovak centre-left MEP Vladimir Manka had said "that there is no legal basis for obliging members to do mandatory training".

The claim was dismissed by French centre-left MEP Edouard Martin in an interview with EUobserver last month.

"It is extraordinary that this is a legislator who says this. Manka is a member of the European Parliament. Who makes law? It's us!," said Martin.

Martin, who as quaestor is a Bureau member, told EUobserver by email that he encouraged all MEPs to participate in the pilot courses.

"Like you, I also wish that all members would do that," he said.

"We are still looking for the best way how to go about it while respecting the free mandate of members and their prerogatives as elected members," Manka said.

He suggested as one option that all candidates for the next election could be asked "to sign a commitment that once elected they will undergo such a training".

However, when asked by this website where in EU law it is written down that there was no legal basis to oblige MEPs to do such training, Manka's responded only cryptically.

"From the outset, I consider training for all members as one of the most important goals. If I named the main obstacle that stand in the way today, in the presence of populism, the road to the goal would be unnecessarily complicated," he wrote by email.

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.

Centre-right MEPs want transparency vote to be secret

A number of centre-right MEPs are pushing for a secret ballot on a plenary vote that would make EU lawmakers more transparent and accountable to the public - in a move described as "absurd" by Transparency International.

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