CESI welcomes Council move on EU accession to Istanbul Convention

CESI appreciates the Council’s confirmed intention to ratify the EU’s accession to the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention on Preventing and Combatting Violence against Women and Domestic Violence.

The decision came on February 21, almost seven years after the European Commission had tabled a legislative proposal. Previously, heavy lobbying by the European Parliament, civil society organisations and trade unions had increased political pressure on the Council to act.

The draft of the so-called Council Decision that will formalise the EU’s accession to the Istanbul Convention still needs the official consent of the European Parliament. Given the European Parliament’s vocal role in pushing the Council to move forward on the accession, it is expected that this will happen without delay. The European Parliament had passed its last resolution calling on the Council to move only on February 15 this year. A formal final vote will then take place in the Council to conclude the act, likely in June.

The Istanbul Convention – a convention of the Council of Europe – is the main international instrument aiming to eliminate violence against women by setting out comprehensive legal and policy measures to prevent such violence and protect and assist victims. These include measures on data collection, awareness-raising, the criminalisation of violence against women, and the provision of support services. It also addresses the gender-based violence dimension in matters of asylum and migration. It entered into force on 1 April 2014 and was signed by the EU on 13 June 2017. The Istanbul convention covers matters falling both within EU competence and within the competence of Member States. The decision on the conclusion by the EU covers only those matters falling within exclusive EU competence. 22 out of the EU’s 27 Member States have signed and ratified the Convention.

Through resolutions and letters, CESI had repeatedly called on the Council to ratify the Convention for the EU, a process that was stalled initially because no unanimity could be reached on the matter among the Member States. After an opinion of the EU’s Court of Justice had confirmed that the Council may also vote to ratify the Convention by quality majority voting, the last Czech Presidency abstained from acting for political reasons.

Kirsten Lühmann, President of CESI’s Women’s Rights Commission, said: “We greatly appreciate the commitment of the Swedish Council Presidency to finally put the ratification of the EU to the Istanbul Convention to a vote by qualified majority. We have waited for this moment for more than six years. We are confident that the European Parliament will swiftly give its formal consent to the EU’s accession. After years of a political struggle, now is the time to look ahead.”

Romana Deckenbacher, Vice-President of CESI’s Women’s Rights Commission, said: “Violence against women is still too prevalent. During the Covid pandemic, lockdowns trapped many women at home and left them especially vulnerable to violence and abuse. Several countries saw spikes in domestic violence. This added to unacceptable violence levels which women had been facing long before already. Every case of violence is one case too much, and the EU’s accession to the Istanbul Convention is an important step to prevent and manage violence against women.“

Carmen Jaffke, Vice-President of CESI’s Women’s Rights Commission, said: “Important as it is, a formal accession of the EU to the Istanbul Convention will not solve all problems. The EU’s accession will only cover matters falling within exclusive EU competence, and the Convention itself does not cover recent phenomena such as gender-based cyberbullying. The finalisation of a complementary EU directive on gender-based violence is therefore of utmpost importance. Moverover, the EU Member States Bulgaria, Czechia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia have not ratified the Convention themselves and there remain implementation issues in other Member States. We need a comprehensive gender prevention and management framework that is also properly enforced at the EU level and in the Member States too.”