The European Parliament debated on Monday (12 March) the problems facing a landmark convention on protecting women from violence, which several member states, including Bulgaria, have yet to ratify. But Bulgaria, the current holder of the rotating EU presidency, was notable in its absence.
The Council of Europe’s Convention on the Prevention and Combatting Domestic Violence, better known as the Istanbul Convention, is the first instrument in Europe to create a comprehensive framework for the protection of women and girls from all forms of violence. It is also aimed at preventing, prosecuting and abolishing violence against them.
But in several member states, notably in Bulgaria and Slovakia, detractors to the convention claim that the Council of Europe document is a Trojan horse aimed at introducing a “third sex” and same-sex marriage.
So far, the Istanbul Convention has been ratified by 17 EU members: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden.
In an attempt to spare itself further political problems at home, the Bulgarian government last week withdrew its decision on the ratification of the Istanbul Convention.
The debate was held on the initiative of Swedish lawmaker Malin Björk (GUE/NGL), who warned that serious mobilisation was underway against the Istanbul Convention in several countries.
“It’s a shame that nobody from the presidency is here to tell us how they intend to take this forward in the Council,” she said.
“The last setback was in Bulgaria, the country holding the presidency. This is a ruthless, frontally sexist and homophobic attack that goes on against both women and LGBT people,” she tweeted.
I flera länder pågår nu allvarlig mobilisering mot @coe #Istanbulkonventionen .Nu sist sker det i EU ordförandelandet Bulgarien! Det är ett hänsynslöst, frontalt sexistiskt och homofobiskt angrepp som pågår mot både kvinnor och hbtq personer! #eupol @unizonjourer @CiHolmgren
— Malin Björk (@MalinBjork_EU) March 12, 2018
Commission Vice-President Andrus Ansip stressed that the Convention has no hidden agenda and that its purpose is to fight violence against women. He said the Convention has provoked turbulent public debates due to misreadings and misinterpretation of the term “gender”.
“It is not an instrument for shaping gender perceptions or ideologies,” he insisted.
He also seemed to indirectly answer claims by Bulgarian nationalists that the Convention may force Bulgaria to accept “transvestites from Iran” on its territory.
“Nowhere in the convention is it stated that new refugee status should be established for transgender or intersex persons or for any other group,” Ansip said.
Some MEPs argued it was a matter of national competence.
“This is a gender vision of society, where gender is socially defined. It’s a concept, it’s not a biological fact. The left would like to conduct a revolution here. I think it’s a matter of subsidiarity. The EU doesn’t have competence here. The competence lies with the member states,” Polish lawmaker Jadwiga Wiśniewska (ECR) stated.
The only Bulgarian MEP who took the floor was Angel Dzhambazki, from the VMRO party, a member of the United Patriots, the junior coalition partner in Boyko Borissov’s government. Dzhambazki sits in the ECR group.
He claimed that most of those who took the floor only confirmed that the issue was political.
“It is crystal clear that in this document [the Istanbul Convention] there is ideology, gender ideology. These things should be made clear and removed from this document. And nobody will be against.
“And it’s not only about Bulgaria. It’s also about the UK, a major Western country, and other countries that have doubts concerning this ratification. Please respect the internal order and the right of each society to manage its internal order,” he added.
UK Labour MEP Julie Ward said she was not happy about her country’s delay in ratifying the Convention but slammed Bulgaria in particular.
“In Bulgaria, the use of transphobic and homophobic arguments against this convention is very disappointing. It is particularly worrying in the context of the Bulgarian Presidency, and I call on the Bulgarian government to revise its position on this crucial issue,” Ward stated.
In a tweet, the British politician also criticised Bulgaria’s opposition socialists for their stance against the Istanbul Convention, despite the position of their former leader Sergei Stanishev, now leader of the Party of European Socialists (PES), who is in favour of ratification.
— Julie Ward MEP #FBPE #PCPEU (@julie4nw) March 12, 2018