MEPs debate new resolution on #MeToo and sexual harassment

Parliament debate highlights that sexual harassment within the European institutions is an unwon battle
Evelyn Regner, chair of Parliament’s Gender Equality and Women’s Rights (FEMM) Committee, discussing the MeToo and harassment resolution in plenary | Source: European Parliament Audiovisual

By Inbar Preiss

Inbar Preiss is a reporter at the Parliament Magazine

17 Dec 2021

The European Parliament held a debate on harassment on the final day of this month's plenary session in Strasbourg. 

Evelyn Regner (AT, S&D), the chair of Parliament’s Gender Equality and Women’s Rights (FEMM) Committee had drafted a resolution on MeToo and harassment and told those MEPs attending that: “We know that 90 percent of victims of sexual harassment are women, and that sexual harassment is affecting 55 percent of women in the EU. This is more than a quarter of the population.”

Furthermore, she explained, 75 percent of women in professions requiring qualifications or top management jobs have been sexually harassed. “We also know that harassment is underreported, so the numbers could be worse,” said Regner.

With 516 votes in favour, 86 against and 75 abstentions, the resolution centres around three main objectives: mandatory anti-harassment training for all MEPs; raising more awareness on where victims can report cases and obtain support; and stronger cooperation between the EU institutions to tackle the issue and share best practices.

“We need to ensure the European Parliament has zero tolerance towards any form of harassment, that victims are supported and perpetrators face the consequences” Evelyn Regner

Regner recommended offering the mandatory training in different languages and wants to provide a public list on people who have completed it. She further called for independent evaluation of existing bodies and increasing transparency on the issue.

“We need to ensure the European Parliament has zero tolerance towards any form of harassment, that victims are supported and perpetrators face the consequences.”

The European Commission already has a series of sexual harassment measures in place since 2004, including formal and informal redress mechanisms, as well as a voluntary training course addressing harassment that is also open to the other institutions. However, Regner added, "shamefully", only a quarter of members have participated.

Most MEPs agreed that these measures were not enough. Frances Fitzgerald (IE, EPP) said: “As a woman in politics, I raise my hand and say ‘Me Too’” as she endorsed the resolution.

Terry Reintke (DE, Greens) stated that the Me Too movement changed the conversation on harassment and women’s rights, but it did not change enough: “Still cases of sexual harassment and sexual assault are still not taken seriously. Still conviction rates, even of rape are ridiculously low. And we have a backlash against women’s rights in full swing”.

She added, “Also, here in the Parliament in this house of EU democracy, issues have been talked down and urgently needed measures have still not been implemented”.

Yet there were those who criticised Regner’s resolution. Annika Bruna (FR, ID) said that “Me Too shouldn’t become a new inquisition”.

She argued, “This text does raise real problems of harassment in the institutions, but let’s not lose sight of the daily life of millions of Europeans… Where are women more in danger, in the European Parliament or in cities across Europe and in their homes?”

Criticism also took a different turn, with German ID deputy Nicolaus Fest saying, “We must protect men from false accusations,” referring to a study from Bavaria that showed that 15 percent of men were unjustly punished for harassment.

“You are enemies of democracy,” accused Jorge Buxadé Villalba (ES, ERC), objecting to what he called a “mandatory feminist re-education course”.

“Do not expect to find me in your training, my mother educated me thank you very much,” he added.

“Still cases of sexual harassment and sexual assault are still not taken seriously. Still conviction rates, even of rape are ridiculously low. And we have a backlash against women’s rights in full swing” Terry Reintke

Most MEPs, however agreed that the resolution was vital not only to ensuring the EU institutions foster a safe work-place culture, but also in setting an example and through that support the thousands of women who have condemned harassment and abuse.

Polish Greens/EFA deputy Sylwia Spurek, who earlier in the week saw her report on cyberviolence successfully pass through plenary, joined the discussion: “The European Parliament should set an example when it comes to protecting its employees from harassment.”

“Unfortunately, that’s not the case,” said Spurek, a FEMM Committee vice chair, adding: “We do not have effective procedures and victims are scared of further victimization or of losing their jobs. Not everyone here takes harassment seriously. It’s not a second-rate problem, it’s not a private problem. Victims shouldn’t be left to their own devices.”

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