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.
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.
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.
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.