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MEPs vote for EU to ratify Istanbul Convention against violence against women

European Parliament members vote on a convention to prevent and combat violence against women and domestic violence, Feb. 15, 2023 at the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
European Parliament members vote on a convention to prevent and combat violence against women and domestic violence, Feb. 15, 2023 at the European Parliament in Strasbourg. Copyright AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias
Copyright AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias
By Euronews
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Several EU countries still refuse to ratify the Istanbul Convention and the vote in the European Parliament will not force them to do so but it should still confer women in these countries extra protection.

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MEPs in Strasbourg on Wednesday backed the bloc's ratification of the Istanbul Convention, a human rights treaty opposing violence against women and domestic violence, but the European Union countries that have yet to ratify it still won't have to. 

The EU first signed the convention in 2016 but did not ratify it due to objections from multiple member states.

A 2021 EU Court of Justice ruling said that the bloc can ratify the treaty, however, without the agreement of all EU countries.

The EU's ratification of the Council of Europe treaty was backed by the hemicycle with 472 votes in favour, 62 against and 73 abstentions.

Helena Dalli, Commissioner for Equality, welcomed the vote on Twitter, writing that it represents "a historic step forward that sends a strong message about the importance of women's rights in the EU. Violence against women has no place in the Union of Equality."

Łukasz Kohut (S&D, Poland), lead MEP for the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee, said in a statement that "gender-based violence is the biggest unsolved daily problem in Europe."

"One in three women in the EU has experienced physical and/or sexual violence - around 62 million women. Enough is enough. The Istanbul Convention is recognised as the most effective tool for combating gender-based violence, as it imposes concrete obligations. A European law anti-violence umbrella will protect women and girls in Europe, through the EU’s accession to the Istanbul Convention."

Six EU member states have not ratified the convention: Bulgaria, Czechia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, and Slovakia. 

The vote in the European parliament will not force them to ratify the treaty. 

Another, Poland, is threatening to pull out, while EU neighbour Turkiye withdrew in 2021, prompting widespread protests in the country.

Danish MEP Karen Melchior (Renew) blamed "the right-wing (that) has been making it into a culture war rather than following science and common sense" for these countries' stance on the Istanbul Convention.

"It's about being able to be who you are, be protected against violence within your own home. We've never said that violence is allowed as long as it happens within the family or murder is allowed, as long as it happens within the family. And it's crucial that we try to look at experts and knowledge about how to combat violence against women and domestic violence, rather than allowing the far-right and to capture it as part of a culture war," she told Euronews.

The six EU countries that have not joined and Poland, however, cannot stop the ratification at the EU level as the Court of Justice ruling made clear only a qualified majority is necessary to endorse the MEPs' vote and not unanimity. 

And women in these countries should also benefit from the move.

"Now we have a good basis for having gender-based violence as a euro crime. Now, women can also go to the European Court of Justice. So this is really a basis for all women in Europe and an obligation to those member states who haven't ratified so far the Istanbul Convention," Evelyn Regner, an S&D MEP from Austria said.

Belgian MEP Saskia Bricmont (Greens), concurred, explaining that "the (European) commission will be able to open infringement procedures if they do not respect the rights of women and also access to justice for the victims and access to the different services in an integrated manner."

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