After the Weinstein scandal in Hollywood and the global movement to denounce sexual harassment, the European Parliament debated the subject before the vote on a resolution that will call on the executive to react.
But it was a sparse Parliament that welcomed Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström on Wednesday (25 October) for a debate on sexual harassment.
A topic that does not fall within the scope of the Swedish commissioner, for obvious reasons: there is no commissioner in charge of women’s rights in the Juncker Commission.
The President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, chose to be represented by his vice-president, Sylvie Guillaume, to animate the debate.
If the institution had the merit of organising the “first debate in a Parliament in Europe”, since the Weinstein affair, as pointed out by the centrist leader Sophie in’t Veld, the subject did not attract many MEPs. Nearly 700 of them showed up at the end of the debate for the voting session.
Few male voices
Only about thirty women and twenty men took part in the debate, and very few men spoke despite making up two-thirds of the hemicycle.
In a resolution to be put to the vote on 26 October, some 50 MEPs call on the Commission and on the member states to step up the fight against harassment. Some of them want the executive to propose a new directive.
“Everywhere in the world women wake up, there is a real global movement in which women denounce the unacceptable,” said Commissioner Cecilia Malmström, while recalling that many initiatives are already fighting violence against women.
The executive has, however, already refused to embark on a new law in the form of directives, ensuring that the current body of law is sufficient.
“We must focus on the application of the many texts available,” said the Commissioner.
Commission shelters behind the Istanbul Convention
The Commission preferred to remind member states of their responsibility to ratify the Istanbul Convention, a 2011 text that provides for action against violence against women and domestic violence.
All 28 EU member states have signed it, but only 15 have ratified it – Germany did it only earlier this month.
Some MEPs, however, stressed legislation is not enough since the victims do not dare to lodge a complaint.
“Victims do not seize the courts, and we must now try to find a solution to this problem,” acknowledged the commissioner, who promised a thorough assessment and a survey on gender-based violence at the European level, coordinated by Eurostat.
Many female MEPs also spoke of inappropriate behaviour by politicians, but were not very precise.
MEP Agnieszka Kozzlowska-Rajewicz, however, spoke against Bruno Le Maire, deploring the French finance minister’s statement that he would not report cases of harassment if he was a witness. Bruno Le Maire later apologised for this comment.
Among the socialists, Iratxe Garcia Perez argued that the “Parliament has instruments, but they do not work” and asked to strengthen the device.
Élisabeth Morin-Chartier, chair of the anti-harassment committee in the European Parliament, only partially agreed.
She proposed to appoint “confidantes” who can listen to victims and witnesses, and institute a mediator between the European Parliament and the victims, but opposed the creation of a new structure because “the moral and sexual harassment are often intimately linked.”
Britain’s Julie Girling, a member of ECR group, proposed to welcome the victims herself, in her own office.
Strong opposition between radical left and right
The extremes in the Parliament, on the other hand, are totally opposed over how to tackle the subject.
For the radical left, it is crucial to “break the silence in this Parliament”, as confirmed by Swedish MEP Malin Bjork (GEUL), “it is a structural problem in Europe, not cultural: men must assume their responsibility.”
A position shared by French MEP Karima Delli, who recalls having two men among her collaborators. “Did I ever get them in an office or pinch their buttocks in the elevator? No!”, said the green MEP.
In contrast, the extreme right has sought to belittle the subject, saying that the #metoo hashtag is an outlet for public denunciation, and preferred to focus on pornography, suggesting that the pornographic industry is as guilty for harassment as the men perpetrating it, according to French MEP Deputy Mylène Troszczynski (ENF).