Blocking access to web sites containing child pornography may not be entirely effective, and could be hard to do EU-wide, due to EU Member States' differing sensitivities and traditions, said Civil Liberties Committee MEPs on Monday, in a preliminary debate on a proposed EU directive on sexual abuse of children and child pornography. Studies suggest that between 10% and 20% of children in Europe are sexually assaulted during childhood.
MEPs questioned Belgian justice minister Stefaan De Clerck, representing the Council Presidency, on the progress of the proposed EU directive on sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children and child pornography.
Civil Liberties Committee rapporteur Roberta Angelilli (EPP, IT), pointed out that "there are still some critical points" to be discussed, due mainly to "differences in the legal systems" of the Member States and their criminal law provisions. Ms Angelilli's draft report should be presented in January 2011 and the committee vote should be taken in February.
Tough issues in the current discussions include rules to prevent anyone convicted of child abuse offences in one Member State from getting a job with children in another Member States, combating sex tourism, and blocking access to internet sites. Blocking internet access, or deleting internet pages is a particularly sensitive area, where "Member States have different traditions and sensibilities", said Mr De Clerck.
The proposal will be discussed as a priority item at the December meeting of the Council, where "we want to have a final decision", he added, so that the directive can be finalised and approved under the Hungarian Presidency next year. The December Council is to procedural matters, protection of victims, and prevention.
Doubts about blocking web access
Alexander Alvaro (ALDE, DE), focused on efforts to remove web sites posting child abuse material. "Blocking does not seem to be very efficient", he said, suggesting that the question of whether a web site should be deleted or blocked is perhaps best left to Member States, rather than the EU. He also pointed out that asking the United States or Russia to take web sites off the internet could be problematic.
"In a hearing in October we heard one organization of victims and it was against blocking websites", pointed out Andrew Brons (NI, UK), adding that "blocking can be merely cosmetic", and noting the case of an Irish bakery web site which had been linked to a web site containing child pornography without the knowledge of the original internet host server.
"Blocking web sites is not just a conflict of legal traditions, it's also a political matter", said Jan Albrecht (Greens/EFA, DE). "Blocking apparently doesn't work", he said, noting that the web site of a campaign against child pornography had twice been blocked in the Netherlands.
Preventing child abuse is much more important, argued Birgit Sippel (S&D, DE), adding that further discussion was needed on the proposal's "internal contradictions" with regard to sanctions to be imposed.
"Blocking internet sites can be rather pointless. Why is not the accent put on prevention?", Sophia in't Veld (ALDE, NL), asked Mr De Clerk.
Replying to MEPs' questions, Mr De Clerk emphasised that "we have to strike a good balance between feasibility and the efficiency of the instrument as a whole. We need all types of measures, so that we can react early to prevent any sexual abuse. In December, I hope I can give positive results".
In the chair: Sophia in't Veld (ALDE, NL)