Violence against women will soon be punished uniformly in the EU. A “yes means yes” rule is not part of the policy. Germany blocked that.

Women with raised hands

Women protest against male attacks in Brussels in 2019 Photo: Brian Arnaud/Picture Alliance

SEDAN taz | Sending intimate images without consent, cyberbullying and stalking, as well as deepfakes and forced marriage will soon be criminal offenses across the European Union. Negotiators from the European Parliament and EU states agree on this, as EU Commissioner for Values ​​and Transparency Věra Jourová announced on Tuesday. The fact that violence against women and domestic violence will be punished uniformly in the future is a first in the EU.

“The agreement on the EU directive to combat violence against women and domestic violence is a milestone for women in Europe,” said Family Minister Lisa Paus (Greens). “With the agreement, the EU sends a clear signal: violence against women and domestic violence in Europe must be stopped in a concrete way. Now significant success has been achieved; The political debate for greater protection of women against violence will continue.”

The Commission and Parliament also proposed that the crime of rape be normalized. Due to resistance from the EU's largest member states, Germany and France, this passage was removed. Criminal law is not EU law because, according to Article 83(1) of the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), uniform regulation is only possible in the area of ​​crimes classified as EU crimes. This includes human trafficking and money laundering. The argument is that such anchoring can be challenged in the European courts. However, this is legally controversial: 13 Member States had voted in favor of uniform regulation.

Criminal lawyers from the German Women Lawyers Association (djb) underlined in a statement that the EU certainly has the authority to regulate rape at EU level. The djb is based, among other things, on the EU directive to combat the sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children and child pornography. “Sexual exploitation” is defined in such a way that crimes can be harmonized, even beyond economic factors such as trafficking in persons for sexual exploitation: “The directive also contains provisions that focus on the use of force and “forced sexual acts.”

“A big disappointment”

For sexual relations to be considered consensual, the “yes means yes” principle should actually apply, as provided for in a commission draft from March 2022. In addition to the abolition of this regulation, the principle also applies: the authors They cannot be prosecuted for rape across the EU if they have not threatened or used violence against the victim. However, according to the guidelines, the fact that sex is based on consent is a norm in prevention work.

Irish Christian Democrat Frances Fitzgerald spoke about this in Parliament on Wednesday. “Today we take the first step to make Europe the first continent in the world to eliminate violence against women,” said the European Parliament negotiator: “We could not include an agreed definition of rape in the directive. “This is a big disappointment.” European MP Birgit Sippel (SPD) is also unhappy: “This says something about the state of the FDP, which, in view of very poor poll results, is apparently trying to improve its personal profile at the expense of legal certainty in Europe. to the detriment of women,” Sippel told the Phoenix news channel.

To date, 18 of the 27 member states require that violence be threatened or demonstrated for rape to be punishable as a criminal offence. Since 2016, the rule in Germany is “no means no”: a sexualized act must be rejected in order to be recognized as rape.

Feminists hoped that the new regulations would allow a principle of consent to be applied at the European level, as is already the case in Sweden and Spain. For this reason, a hundred well-known women wrote a public letter asking the Minister of Justice, Marco Buschmann (FDP), to abandon his blockade in Europe.

Activist Kristina Lunz

“As a feminist civil society, we would have wished that the Greens and the SPD had not tolerated the blockade of the Minister of Justice”

Activist Kristina Lunz was one of the first signatories. “As a feminist civil society, we would have wished that the Greens and the SPD had not tolerated the blocking stance of the Minister of Justice,” Lunz told the EPD.

The agreement must still be formally adopted by the European Parliament and the Council. EU states will then have three years to implement the guidelines. This also stipulates that EU states must create a national helpline for victims of violence, which is free of charge and available at any time. Additionally, preventive measures must be taken to prevent violence.

Germany probably needs to update the law on digital violence. Furthermore, during this legislative period, the Federal Ministry of Justice and the Federal Ministry of Women's Affairs are still evaluating the sexual criminal law of 2016, in which the principle “no means no” was agreed.