Istanbul Convention ‘unconstitutional’ in Bulgaria

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker leave the final press conference during the Bulgarian Presidency on 29 June 2018. Borissov kept the ball rolling on the Istanbul Convention ratification until the end of the Bulgarian Presidency. [Stephanie Lecocq/EPA/EFE]

The Bulgarian Constitutional Court voted on Friday (27 July) to declare the Istanbul Convention unconstitutional. The Convention is the first instrument in Europe to create a comprehensive framework for the protection of women and girls from all forms of violence.

As Bulgarian media have pointed out, the Constitutional Court has done the government of Boyko Borissov a favour, as the prime minister did not find the courage to ratify the Council of Europe’s Convention on the Prevention and Combatting Domestic Violence, better known as the Istanbul Convention.

The Bulgarian Parliament was indeed widely expected to reject it.

In several EU member states, notably in Bulgaria and Slovakia, the convention’s critics claim that the Council of Europe document is a Trojan horse aimed at introducing a “third sex” and same-sex marriage.

After Bulgaria, Slovakia too fails to ratify the Istanbul Convention

A wave of opposition in Central Europe to so-called “gender ideology” has led Bulgaria on 15 February, and then Slovakia yesterday (22 February) to oppose ratifying the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence.

So far, the 2011 Istanbul Convention has been ratified by 18 EU members: Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden.

Eight of the judges in the Constitutional Court voted today against ratifying the Istanbul Convention, and four voted in favour.

The majority of the judges took the view that the 2011 convention blurs the differences between the two sexes, which according to them would only make it more difficult to fight against domestic violence.

The EU has taken the position that the Convention has no hidden agenda of shaping gender perceptions and ideologies, as its detractors claim, and that its sole purpose is to fight violence against women.

In Bulgaria, key political forces, including the opposition Socialists and the United Patriots, junior partners to the ruling GERB, openly oppose the Istanbul Convention.

Istanbul Convention spells trouble for Bulgaria's ruling coalition

At the very start of Bulgaria’s EU presidency, Prime Minister Boyko Borissov’s ruling coalition was unexpectedly shaken by growing opposition to the government’s plan to ratify the Council of Europe convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence.

Trying to appease the public opinion, Borissov’s GERB party (affiliated to EPP, but populist in essence), kicked the ball to the Constitutional Court and obtained a result that was unsurprising to many.

Before that, Borissov kept the ball rolling during the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU, conscious that the failure to ratify would have a negative impact during its EU stint.

Bulgarian Presidency skips EP’s Istanbul Convention debate

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.

Ironically, the new ambassador of the EU to the Council of Europe is Bulgarian. Meglena Kuneva, a former EU Commissioner and former minister for European affairs of Bulgaria, got the job days ago.

She is now the interface between the Council of Europe and the EU, and will have to follow up on further ratification of the Convention.

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