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Commission urges EU countries to include rape in directive on violence against women

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The Equality Commissioner urged EU countries to find an agreement with the Parliament on the directive to prevent and combat violence against women, urging for rape to be included in the file.

On Monday (9 October) during the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council (EPSCO) in Luxembourg Helena Dalli, Commissioner for Equality, urged countries’ representatives to reach a compromise on the directive to prevent and combat violence against women, which was presented by the Commission on March 2022.

The directive is currently in the interinstitutional negotiation phase. Two trilogues down, reaching a compromise does not appear to be easy.

The main points of contention are which crimes should be covered by the directive, if rape should be included, the terminology linked to gender, and in which form protection for victims of violence should be ensured.

“The mandate of the Council and the European Parliament on this file diverge quite substantially,” Helena Dalli, Commissioner for Equality told countries’ representatives on Monday.

She called the ministers and state secretaries “to liaise closely with their counterparts in the justice area, especially on the key elements of a compromise”.

The clash between the member states and Parliament was foreseen, especially regarding the rape inclusion in the directive. The Council in their position, reached in June 2023, excluded Article 5 of the Commission’s proposal, which said that a non-consensual sex act is a criminal offence.

In the following month, July 2023, Parliament set their position, which was in line with the Commission’s proposal regarding the inclusion of rape, with co-rapporteurs making it clear that Parliament will not be satisfied with a directive that excludes rape.

Including rape in the directive was stressed by Dalli: “Clearly, the criminalisation of rape will need to find its place in the directive.”

The argument against including the criminalisation of non-consensual sex acts is that this would be an overreach of EU legal competencies.

Rape is not included in the list of Euro-crimes, offences which, by definition in the Treaty, deserve to be dealt with at the EU level because of their particularly serious nature and their cross-border dimension – as such, it is harder to find a legal ground.

While some member states have said there is no legal basis for it, the Commission and the Parliament have said the opposite.

“I know that there are concerns about the interpretation of the legal basis. However, we have already used the exact same legal basis to criminalise non-consensual sexual activities with children, so there is no legal argument against using it now,” Dalli said.

“The whole European Union should take the same stance on the matter. Sex without consent is rape. There is no space for accepting additional requirements other than lack of consent,” she added.

During EPSCO, several countries spoke: Greece, Italy and Belgium; all expressing their support for including rape in the directive.

“I would like with this statement to recall the Greek position as expressed in the Declaration jointly signed with Belgium, Italy and Luxembourg, that the case of rape should fall within the scope of this directive,” said Greek Minister for Social Cohesion and Family, Sofia Zacharaki.

Italy expressed “deep regret” that the crime of rape was not included in the compromise text for the scope for harmonisation, while Belgian Deputy Permanent Representative, Pierre Cartuyvels said that “rape should be one of the crimes covered by this directive”.

Spanish presidency underlined their commitment to work on the directive. “The fight against violence is an essential priority for the Spanish presidency, for the Council as a whole, and also for the European Parliament,” said Ignacio Alvarez Peralta, Spain’s Secretary of State for Social Rights.

“We all agree on the need to protect women and to bring the perpetrators of violence to justice, to try and eradicate violence and to mitigate the consequences of it,” Peralta added.

Another trilogue on the matter is to take place in mid-November.

[Edited by Nathalie Weatherald]

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