Thursday

13th Aug 2020

German, French MEPs tried to block #MeToo measure

  • MEPs that want to become rapporteur, or hold another senior parliamentary post, have to sign a declaration of good behaviour (Photo: European Parliament)

German centre-right and French far-right MEPs have tried, unsuccessfully, to torpedo a new rule which will require MEPs with senior posts to sign a document promising to behave appropriately.

The new rule was adopted on Thursday (31 January) with a broad majority, and relates to a recently-adopted code of appropriate behaviour for MEPs.

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  • Conservative German MEP Hans-Olaf Henkel voted against. 'For me it is common sense not to harass people in any form,' he explained. (Photo: European Parliament)

The rule states that MEPs who have not signed a declaration to respect the code, will not be able to be elected as president or vice-president.

They will also be barred from taking a position as rapporteur, which is a much-sought after post that gives responsibility over the drafting of legislation and negotiations on behalf of the parliament.

MEPs unwilling to sign would also not be allowed to take part in official delegations.

The new rule was adopted as part of a resolution on the parliament's new rules of procedure, which will also lead to some increased transparency of MEP meetings with lobbyists.

It was voted on in two parts.

The first was about parliament simply declaring in its resolution that MEPs "shall refrain from any type of psychological or sexual harassment and shall respect the code of appropriate behaviour for members of the European parliament."

This amendment was adopted with an overwhelming majority of 622 against 16, with eight MEPs abstaining.

The second part was about the actual rule that made signing the declaration on the code a precondition for getting any of the key posts.

This was supported by 493 MEPs, with 111 voting against, and 26 abstaining.

Opposition came mainly from 30 German MEPs who sit with the centre-right European People's Party (EPP) – almost the entire contingent of deputies from Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union party.

It was also opposed by 23 French MEPs, most of them from the far-right Rassemblement National (National Rally).

Of the 111 MEPs who voted against, 57 sit with the pro-EU, centre-right European People's Party (EPP), and 31 with the far-right, eurosceptic Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF).

No ENF member voted in favour, but it did receive support from a majority of the EPP (108 MEPs), the largest group in the parliament.

One reason for opposing the measure was given by German MEP Hans-Olaf Henkel, who sits with the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR).

According to a leaked email published by Politico, Henkel had called it an "incredibly stupid" initiative.

Common sense

On Thursday, Henkel explained in a statement that he saw a code of appropriate behaviour as redundant.

"For me, it is common sense not to harass people in any form," said Henkel.

"Maybe I think [too] highly of my colleagues but I think we all know what is right and what is wrong," he added.

However, there is some evidence to the contrary.

Since the eruption of the #MeToo scandal in Hollywood in 2017, stories have come out about harassment in the European Parliament as well.

Some assistants felt that the parliament's administration was not doing enough to fight harassment, and set up a blog with anonymised stories.

Last month a majority of MEPs reaffirmed their desire for a mandatory training for MEPs, which would help them recognise harassment and help prevent it.

Parliament's advisory committee on harassment deals with on average three to four cases per year, a spokeswoman said last year.

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.

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.

Deal on EP vice-presidents divides new liberal group

A majority of the new parliament's 14 vice-presidents are from the centre-right EPP or the centre-left S&D. They also control the Bureau, which decides on crucial internal issues like expenses transparency.

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