With a significant majority of 472 against 62 votes, MEPs on Wednesday approved the European Union’s accession to the Convention on Combating Domestic and Sexually Motivated Violence. The Swedes, as the current presidents of the EU, can thus complete the whole process and vote on “Istanbul” among the member states in June, which is also their ambition.
If the convention were to pass, as is expected, given that in this case the consent of all is not needed, the accession of the EU to the much-discussed document would be definitively confirmed. But what will it mean for the Czech Republic and the other five countries of the twenty-seven that have not ratified it?
From the legal point of view, nothing immediately. The Czech Republic will not be forced to approve the document nor will it violate EU law. The Istanbul Convention comes from the workshop of another organization, the Council of Europe. Accession to it by the EU will apply only to Union institutions and areas in which the Union has competence.
Women and men working in EU institutions or potential victims of the interpretation of European law will thus be able to refer to the content of the convention. For example, an asylum seeker in the Union from a third country who has been the target of a sexual assault and will defend herself in court. On the contrary, for example, criminal rates for rape, which vary greatly across EU states, will not affect accession to the convention.
“It is possible that ambiguities will arise in the interpretation of the convention in practice due to the fact that several EU countries have not ratified it and most have. Only the courts would then bring a clear interpretation,” Polish MEP Lukasz Kohut told the Aktuálně.cz server, who had a discussion of the document in the European in charge of the parliament as rapporteur.
Politically, the cabinet of Prime Minister Petr Fiala (ODS) is coming under further pressure to approve the document. The Czech government already signed the convention in 2016, but since then no one has sent it to the parliament for ratification. This spring, for the second time, the ministers of the KDU-ČSL and the ODS requested the postponement of the convention. They argued that it is a “sensitive topic” and the matter needs to be discussed more in the coalition.
At the same time, the Legislative Council of the Government recommended ratification. However, the disinformation scene and ultra-conservative associations dominated the debate about the Istanbul Convention in the Czech Republic. They claim that the approval of the text will lead to the disintegration of traditional families and the forced re-education of children into gender-neutral individuals.
Similar statements were made before the vote during a tense debate on the floor of the European Parliament. “You want to protect women from violence and you are not even able to define what a woman looks like. Shame on you!” for example, Romanian member of parliament Cristian Terhes for the Eurosceptic faction ECR, which also includes the ruling ODS, threw in among the female politicians.
Its MEPs voted against the convention, on the contrary, it was supported by members of parliament for TOP 09, the Pirates or the ANO movement. Two Czech MEPs spoke in the nearly two-hour long debate. The pirate Marcel Kolaja called for the document to be approved as quickly as possible, the populist Tomáš Zdechovský generally condemned any gender-based violence. And he abstained in the subsequent vote.
Votes of eight MPs for, six against (others abstained or did not vote) the Czech Republic joined the countries that are most critical of “Istanbul”. “I always considered the Czechs to be liberals in Central Europe. That’s why I don’t understand why you didn’t ratify the convention,” said Polish reporter Kohut, who has a home in Silesia, twenty kilometers from the Czech border, and lived and worked in Prague for two years. “I interpret it as Czech Euroscepticism. I hope you will change your attitude soon.”
In addition to the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Lithuania and Latvia have not yet ratified the convention. Poland approved the document, but the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party is considering withdrawing its signature. During the key debate between ambassadors in Brussels at the end of February on the EU’s accession to the convention, representatives of Poland, as well as Slovakia, Hungary and Bulgaria, spoke out against it. The Czech Republic did not raise an objection at the time.
Even if the entire group of the mentioned states were to oppose in June, it would probably not prevent the approval of the convention – it would not be enough for the blocking minority in the Council of the EU. The vast majority of countries support the convention.
Video: Interview with Jasmína Houdek about violence against women
Spotlight Aktuálně.cz – Jasmína Houdek | Video: Jakub Zuzánek
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