Wednesday

1st Dec 2021

Poland hammered on women's rights in EU debate

  • Warsaw: women's rights protest erupted after court ruling last month (Photo: Piotr Pawłowski)

The European Commission has urged Poland not to abandon a treaty against domestic violence, as Warsaw continues to drift further from EU norms.

"The Istanbul Convention is the gold standard in terms of policy in this area," equality commissioner Helena Dalli said in the European Parliament in Brussels on Wednesday (25 November), referring to a 2011 international treaty.

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  • Access to abortion was "essential" to women and girls' health, EU commissioner Helena Dalli said (Photo: European Parliament)

All EU countries have signed it, but not all have ratified it, while Poland's right-wing government, earlier this year, said it might exit the accord, in a question which remains open.

But Dalli pledged that if, by mid-2021, the EU still faced shortcomings in this area, then the commission would propose a "legal initiative ... to reach the same objectives as the Istanbul Convention".

And she would propose making violence against women a "eurocrime", Dalli added, referring to designated offences, such as terrorism and human trafficking, where the EU sets minimum penalties for the whole bloc.

Manon Aubry, a French left-wing MEP, read out a list of 86 women in Wednesday's debate, who were killed at home by their partner or ex in France in 2020, in what Dalli also called "barbarism versus civilisation".

But the problem with Poland came to the fore when Sylwia Spurek, a Polish Green MEP, said:

"There are still countries in the European Union that call the fight for women's rights an 'ideology'. They use tradition, religion, and protection of family as an excuse".

Meanwhile, women's rights protests continued in Poland this week, following a Polish Constitutional Court ruling in October, which made almost all abortions illegal.

Police detained several people and charged a female journalist with assaulting a police officer at one demonstration in Warsaw on Monday, the AP news agency reported.

And Dalli voiced empathy in Brussels on Wednesday, saying access to abortion was "essential" to women and girls' health.

She admitted that, "from a legal perspective, it's clear the EU has no competence on abortion rights within a member state".

But she underlined the commission's "concern" on the political bias of the Polish Constitutional Court, which is a subject of EU sanctions procedures and potential budget fines.

And Poland's image took a political hammering in the EP debates.

"It's utterly unacceptable that a Constitutional Court controlled by the government of Mr Kaczyński wants to attack one of the fundamental rights of women", Iratxe García Pérez, a Spanish MEP in charge of the Socialists & Democrats group, said, referring to Polish ruling party chairman Jarosław Kaczyński.

Poland was taking "a step backward in time," for Dutch liberal MEP Samira Rafaela.

'One party, one religion'

Polish MEP Jadwiga Wiśniewska, from Kaczyński's Law and Justice party, said the EP was irresponsible for encouraging street protests, due to the pandemic.

"Trying to impose this left-wing agenda is going to lead to illness and death due to Covid-19," Wiśniewska said.

A handful of other anti-abortion MEPs spoke of their Christian beliefs.

But for Spurek, the Polish Green deputy, Kaczyński's vision of Poland clashed with normal EU values and politics.

"There is no rule of law in Poland anymore. There is no free public media. There are no rights for women. Every year in Poland we move further away from Paris, from Berlin, from Rome," she said.

"We [Polish women] don't want to continue to suffer because of one party and one religion," Spurek said.

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