Soraya Post, MEP

Why is interpersonal security not a priority for Europe?

Flickr/louisekdg/CC BY-NC 2.0
Mural against domestic violence, Hong Kong.

On 27 February, the LIBE Committee (Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs) and the FEMM committee (Women’s Rights and Gender Equality) in the European Parliament adopted my and my co-rapporteur’s Teresa Jiménez-Becerril Barrio’s (EPP-ES) report on the implementation of Directive 2011/99/EU on the European Protection Order (EPO).

However, as we ourselves have found out through the journey of our work, there are not a lot of persons that know what a European Protection Order (EPO) is – especially not the people whose lives and safety depend on it.

Protection orders are meant to protect a person against an act that may endanger their life, physical or psychological integrity, dignity, personal liberty or sexual integrity. The aim is to avoid contacts between an offender or a potential offender and a victim or an individual at risk of being assaulted.

Such protection measures, which can be adopted as part of criminal or civil proceedings, can be provisional or final. They can include prohibiting entry into certain places or defined areas where the protected person resides or visits, forbidding contact in any form, and banning the approach of the protected person within a set distance.

Anyone in need of protection can apply for a protection order but the majority of applicants and receivers are and have been women that have been victims of interpersonal violence such as intimate or domestic violence, harassment, stalking or sexual assault.

In 2010, the Council of the EU estimated that around 118 000 women residing in the EU were covered by protective measures related to gender-based violence. According to the report Violence against women: an EU-wide survey[1] done by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) in 2014 one in 10 women has experienced some form of sexual violence since the age of 15, and one in 20 has been raped.

The same report states that just over one in five women has experienced physical and/or sexual violence from either a current or previous partner, and just over one in 10 women indicates that they have experienced some form of sexual violence by an adult before they were 15 years old. Yet, as an illustration, only 14 % of women reported their most serious incident of intimate partner violence to the police, and 13 % reported their most serious incident of non-partner violence to the police. It is clear that the extensive abuse that affects many women’s lives is systematically under-reported to the authorities.

To strengthen the rights and protection of victims of violence in the whole EU, the European Commission proposed the Directive on the European Protection Order (EPO)[2], which came into force in 2011. EU member states had to implement the provisions of the directive into their national laws by 11 January 2015. A “directive” is a legislative act that sets out a goal that all EU member states must achieve. However, it is up to the individual countries to devise their own laws on how to reach these objectives. Ireland and Denmark got exemptions and are therefore not bound by the EPO legislation.

The European Commission should verify that EU member states fully and correctly incorporate the provisions of a directive into national law and the European Parliament follows up the implementations too. This is what my co-rapporteur and I did in our report; we followed up the implementation of the European Protection Order (EPO) to see if it fulfils its objective, i.e. to provide continued protection when travelling or moving to another EU country.

However when we started the work we realized that there was no data available from the European Commission on the implementation of EPO in member states. Although Article 23 of the EPO directive states: By 11 January 2016, the Commission shall submit a report to the European Parliament and to the Council on the application of this Directive. That report shall be accompanied, if necessary, by legislative proposals.

The European Commission had not checked the performance of the EPO directive completely and in detail, it did not measure if the EPO had been fully implemented by the member states and if it had reached its goal e.g. to save the lives of victims of interpersonal violence. This shows a great neglect from the European Commission and from the member states on these issues.

We commissioned a European Implementation Assessment[3] of the EPO and the results were shocking. Only seven EPOs had been issued by the participating EU member States since the implementation deadline of January 2015. As I mentioned previously, it is estimated that around 118 000 women residing in the EU are covered by protective measures related to gender-based violence. Considering the high number of victims of interpersonal violence and women that joined the #Metoo movement in Europe, it seems very unrealistic that only seven people have needed a European Protection Order (EPO).

There must have been many victims of interpersonal violence that have wanted to travel abroad for holidays, studies or work but stopped by fear and because they were not aware of the protection that an EPO can offer. This is a clear sign that the European Commission and member states have failed in their duties to inform and protect their citizens. If the EPO works correctly, it can save tens of thousands of lives.

Our report calls on the European Commission and the member states to make sure that the information about the EPO really reaches the victims, the NGOs and the authorities that are working with these issues. It calls for mandatory training of professionals likely to come in contact with victims in need of a protective measure.

The report calls on member states to improve the state of the functioning of the EPO by automatically informing persons that get a national protection order about the EPO and making the application process free of charge, shorter and easier  for victims. Member states should also provide free legal aid, translation, and interpretation into a language understood by the victim. A person applying for an EPO should receive an answer within a maximum of two weeks.

It also calls on member states, given the increasing exposure of children and teenagers to violence online, to consider including education on gender equality and non-violence in the school curriculum.

The report also highlights the importance of preventing and combating violence against women and gender-based violence by calling on the member states to fully enforce the Istanbul Convention and to allocate adequate financial and human resources to these issues.

In the European Agenda on Security, there is not one line that says that interpersonal violence has to be a priority. Instead, there is only focus on external threats that demand efforts around national borders. My political party, The Feminist Initiative from Sweden and I strongly believe that we have to change the EU’s security policy so that it includes personal safety and prevention of gender-based violence, as a priority.

The final report[4] on the implementation of the Directive on the European Protection Order (EPO) is expected to be adopted by the European Parliament at the plenary session in April this year.

Soraya Post is a Roma activist and the first Member of the European Parliament from an ideologically anti-racist and feminist party – The Feminist Initiative from Sweden. She is a member of the S&D group and its spokesperson on Roma issues and coordinator for the subcommittee on Human Rights (DROI). Visit her website to read more about her work  


[1] Violence against women: an EU-wide survey. Main results report

[2] DIRECTIVE 2011/99/EU content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:32011L0099&from=EN

[3] European Implementation Assessment: European Protection Order Directive 2011/99/EU

[4] Procedure file: Implementation of Directive 2011/99/EU on the European protection order

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