EU accession to the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women ('Istanbul Convention')

In “A New Push for European Democracy”

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The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women (‘Istanbul Convention’), which came into force in 2014, is the first legally binding international instrument on preventing and combating violence against women and girls at international level. It establishes a comprehensive framework of legal and policy measures for preventing such violence, supporting victims and punishing perpetrators.

As of November 2022, the Convention  has been signed by all EU Member States, and ratified by 21 (Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden). Bulgaria, Czechia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia have not ratified the Convention. In July 2020, the Polish government announced its intention to withdraw from the Convention, but this has not yet been enacted.

The Convention also provides for EU accession, to the extent of its competences. In 2015, the Commission issued a roadmap for EU accession to the Convention. In 2016, considering that EU accession would create a coherent EU level framework for combating violence against women, the Commission issued two proposals for Council decisions, one on the signature and the other on the conclusion (ratification) of the Convention on behalf of the EU. In May 2017, the Council adopted two signature decisions (on different legal bases), the first covering articles of the Convention on cooperation in criminal matters, the second covering articles on asylum and non-refoulement. The EU signed the Convention on 13 June 2017. The next step – formal EU accession to the Convention – requires adoption of a Council decision following the consent of the European Parliament. Discussions are still taking place in the Council’s working party on Fundamental Rights, Citizens’ Rights and Free Movement of Persons (Interinstitutional File 2016/0063(NLE)).

Meanwhile, the von der Leyen Commission has included the file as a priority in its EU 2020-2025 gender equality strategy. The Commission included the file as a pending priority in its 2022 work programme. Since progress has remained blocked, in March 2022, the Commission also proposed new legislation to address violence against women at EU level, which is listed as a priority pending file in its 2023 work programme. 

The European Parliament first asked the European Commission to launch the procedure for EU accession to the Istanbul Convention in its Resolution on Combating Violence against Women of 25 February 2014. Since then, Parliament has consistently supported the idea, highlighting that, in conjunction with an EU directive on violence against women, it would send a robust message about the EU’s commitment to eradicating violence against women and establish a coherent European legal framework for doing so. Pending conclusion of work in the Council and in advance of a formal request for Parliament’s consent, Parliament has been considering the matter:

  • In September 2017, Parliament adopted an interim resolution, based on a report by the Civil Liberties (LIBE) and Women's Rights (FEMM) Committees, welcoming the signature of the Convention by the EU, but calling for EU accession to be broad and without limitations. In November 2022, the LIBE and FEMM Committees have prepared a further draft interim report (rapporteurs: Łukasz Kohut, Poland, S&D; Arba Kokalari, Sweden, EPP), underlining the importance of EU accession to the Convention.
  • In a resolution of 4 April 2019, Parliament asked for an opinion from the European Court of Justice to clarify the appropriate legal basis and therefore the scope of EU accession and the ratification procedure. The Court (Grand Chamber) issued its ruling on 6 October 2021. It found that the appropriate legal basis is Articles 78(2), 82(2), 84 and 336 TFEU. It also ruled that the Council may take additional time to achieve political support among Member States but may not make finding a 'common accord' a prerequisite for the decision on accession, which should be made based on a qualified majority.
  • Parliament has condemned campaigns against the Istanbul Convention, based on deliberate misinterpretations, as a rejection of the internationally agreed zero-tolerance norm for violence against women and gender-based violence.
  • On 12 July 2022, at a presentation of the priorities of the Czech presidency, MEPs in the FEMM Committee asked what steps would be taken to advance the file.

In an Opinion on combating violence against women, adopted on 13 July 2022, the European Economic and Social Committee considers it essential and urgent for the Istanbul Convention to be ratified by all Member States that have not yet done so, and by the EU itself.

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Further reading:

For a more extensive list of references and further reading, please see the previous versions

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Author: Rosamund Shreeves; Members' Research Service, legislative-train@europarl.europa.eu

Read more on the Parliaments' fight for gender equality in the EU

As of 20/11/2022.