22nd Mar 2018

Brussels and Madrid clash over domestic violence bill

  • Viviane Reding (l) said the Spanish proposal is not acceptable in its current form (Photo: Council of the European Union)

In a rare display of public disagreement with the EU presidency country, the European Commission on Friday (23 April) refused to back a legislative proposal providing EU-wide protection for victims of domestic violence.

Spain, currently chairing the EU, has been pushing for the creation of a "European protection order" allowing women subject to violence by their husbands or partners to enjoy the same legal protection anywhere in the 27 member states.

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But different legal traditions in dealing with gender violence have prompted several member states to raise doubts about the current proposal. While a woman in Spain can be granted protection if her partner has no criminal record or has only threatened her with acts of violence, the law is much more restrictive in Austria, for instance, where such orders are issued only in criminal investigations or for already convicted felons.

Madrid has argued that these discrepancies are all the more reason to have an EU-wide tool which is recognised in all member states.

"There are 8,000 Romanian women in Spain who have protection orders. They should be able to go back to their own country and enjoy the same level of protection. The same should also work for the 800 or so Germans. People move freely around Europe and should enjoy the same level of protection," Spanish justice minister Francisco Caamano said during a press briefing following the meeting with his 26 EU counterparts.

Mr Caamano and EU justice commissioner Vivian Reding had diverging views over the outcome of the meeting. While the Spanish politician said there was a "large majority" of member states in favour of Madrid's proposal, the commissioner bluntly contradicted him.

"There is no council agreement. A majority of member states have problems with the current proposal," she said.

The commission will not back the draft bill in its current form, said Ms Reding, noting that the proposal touches on both criminal and civil law, making it too complicated.

"The road to hell is paved with good intentions," she said, warning against victimising individuals for a second time by creating legal uncertainty instead of helping them.

She threatened to take the Council of Ministers to the European Court of Justice if the proposal goes ahead.

Inter-institutional turf war may also explain why the two sides could not agree. Under the EU's new legal framework, the Lisbon Treaty, member states can bypass the commission in its right to table legislative proposals only in respect to criminal law. But by expanding the provisions of the protection order to civil matters, where only the executive can come up with draft legislation, the Spanish presidency stepped on the commission's toes.

Ms Reding promised to set up a working group based on the "preparatory work" done by the Spaniards and in January 2011 table a broad package on all victims' rights, not solely gender-related.

The Spanish presidency, after advertising this initiative as one of its flagship projects, will still try to reach a political agreement in June, which would then have to be ratified by the EU legislature.

"Victims can't wait another two to three years until we sort out the procedures," Mr Caamano said at the press conference.


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