Wednesday

6th Jul 2022

EU court upholds prostitutes' language rights

  • 'Interesting to see if municipalities around Europe use today’s verdict in farming sector' (Photo: Cédric Puisney)

EU judges have said a Dutch mayor is right to insist brothel owners can speak to the prostitutes they work with in a common language to help stop abuse. 

The ruling on Thursday (1 October), by the Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice, represents a rare meeting between EU single market freedoms and Europe’s sex industry. 

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

It comes after the mayor of Amsterdam, four years ago, declined to grant new permits to J. Harmsen, who rents windows to women in the city’s red light district.

The mayor said No because Harmsen wanted to rent space to Bulgarian and Hungarian women, even though Harmsen couldn’t ask them, in any language they understood, whether they had been trafficked or forced to sell sex.

Harmsen said he could use interpreters or online translation software instead.  

But the mayor insisted the language barrier means he couldn’t “directly and reliably … form his own opinion on the prostitute’s background and motivations, without the presence of third parties who might influence her statements”. 

Harmsen then invoked a 2006 EU law on the single market for “services”, saying the Dutch mayor was being “discriminatory” and “disproportionate”. 

But the EU judges threw out his argument on grounds of “overriding reasons relating to the public interest”. 

They also found the Dutch requirement no more restrictive than need be to achieve its goal. 

Limited force

A contact at the EU Court told EUobserver the verdict “doesn’t mean brothel owners need to speak all languages, as the sex-workers may also be able to speak more than one language. If both speak English for example, that would be fine”. 

He noted that the verdict applies to all EU states where brothels are legal. 

It also doesn’t mean other EU cities must follow Amsterdam's example, but if they do, brothel owners will have no grounds to contests their restrictions under EU law. 

The Amsterdam authorities were unavailable for comment on Thursday. 

EUobserver also contacted brothel owners in the Netherlands and in Germany, but none of the contacts wanted to comment on the ruling. 

Prostitution laws are a national competence in the EU, resulting in a patchwork of rules across the bloc. 

But brothels are fully legal in Austria, Germany, Greece, and the Netherlands. 

La Strada International, a Dutch NGO which combats trafficking, told this website that EU enlargements in 2004 and 2007, which saw 10, relatively poorer, countries in eastern Europe join the bloc, prompted large numbers of vulnerable women to seek work in western countries. 

The EU, in 2011, did pass an anti-trafficking law in order to harmonise criminal penalties and better protect victims. 

The European Commission, in a recent study, noted that there were 30,146 recorded cases of human trafficking between 2010 and 2012. 

Eighty percent of them were women and almost 70 percent of all the trafficked people were sold into the sex trade. 

Other sectors

The study said most men are trafficked to work in the agricultural sector.

Thursday's EU verdict, highlighting the problem, comes amid a massive surge of refugees from Syria to the EU, many of whom are brought in by organised crime syndicates.

For her part, Marjan Wijers, a Dutch jurist who led a Commission experts’ group on trafficking from 2003 to 2006, told EUobserver: “Trafficking takes place not just in the sex trade, which gets most of the attention, but also in the farming and transport industries”.

“It’ll be interesting to see if municipalities around Europe use today’s ruling to impose similar language requirements in those areas”.

Opinion

Crisis situations are laboratories for human trafficking

Trafficking in persons not only flourishes during a disaster, it is a direct result of disasters, every bit as much as the infrastructural damages, the loss of life or the food shortages which garner far more attention.

Pegasus spyware makers grilled by MEPs

"We will not continue to work with a customer that is targeting a journalist illegally," Chaim Gelfand, chief compliance officer of NSO Group told MEPs — but shed little light on EU governments' use of its Pegasus spyware.

Opinion

Romania — latest EU hotspot in backlash against LGBT rights

Romania isn't the only country portraying lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people as a threat to children. From Poland and Hungary in EU, to reactionary movements around the world are prohibiting portrayals of LGBT people and families in schools.

News in Brief

  1. France to nationalise nuclear operator amid energy crisis
  2. Instant legal challenge after ok for 'green' gas and nuclear
  3. Alleged Copenhagen shooter tried calling helpline
  4. Socialist leader urges Czech PM to ratify Istanbul convention
  5. Scottish law chief casts doubt on referendum
  6. British PM faces mounting rebellion
  7. Russian military base near Finnish border emptied
  8. Euro slides to lowest level in two decades

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers write to EU about new food labelling
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEmerging journalists from the Nordics and Canada report the facts of the climate crisis
  4. Council of the EUEU: new rules on corporate sustainability reporting
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers for culture: Protect Ukraine’s cultural heritage!
  6. Reuters InstituteDigital News Report 2022

Latest News

  1. Legal action looms after MEPs back 'green' nuclear and gas
  2. EU readies for 'complete Russian gas cut-off', von der Leyen says
  3. Rising prices expose lack of coherent EU response
  4. Keeping gas as 'green' in taxonomy vote only helps Russia
  5. 'War on Women' needs forceful response, not glib statements
  6. Greece defends disputed media and migration track record
  7. MEPs adopt new digital 'rule book', amid surveillance doubts
  8. 'World is watching', as MEPs vote on green finance rules

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us