Bulgaria dissents from EU move on Istanbul Convention against violence against women, domestic violence

In a decision on February 21, European Union ministers requested the agreement of the European Parliament to implement the Istanbul Convention, on preventing and combatting violence against women and domestic violence, but Bulgaria disagreed with the move.

This emerged from statements by the Council of the EU and by Bulgaria’s Foreign Ministry.

The Council of the EU statement said: “By pledging to implement the convention the EU will be confirming its commitment to combatting violence against women within the EU and globally”.

The conclusion of the convention will contribute to achieving equality between women and men in all areas. It will also reinforce the existing legal framework in the area of criminal procedural law, the statement said.

The Istanbul convention is the first 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 April 1 2014 and was signed by the EU on June 13 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.

In Bulgaria, as in some other European countries, the Istanbul Convention has long since been the subject of a disinformation campaign, based on homophobia and seized on by extremists, populists and mainstream parties such as the Bulgarian Socialist Party. This disinformation campaign has resulted in Bulgaria not adopting the Istanbul Convention, with adoption ultimately defeated by a Constitutional Court ruling.

In its February 21 statement, the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry said that the Council of the EU had “decided by a qualified majority to request the approval of the European Parliament on the two draft Council Decisions on accession, on behalf of the EU, to the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (the so-called ‘Istanbul Convention’)”.

“Bulgaria is strongly involved in the fight against domestic violence and violence against women,” the Foreign Ministry said.

According to the Foreign Ministry, “the Bulgarian government and civil society are actively working to prevent such forms of violence and to provide protection and support to its victims”.

The ministry said that in 2018, the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Bulgaria adopted a decision stating that the Istanbul Convention “advocates legal concepts related to the concept of ‘gender’ that are incompatible with the basic principles of the Constitution of the Republic of Bulgaria.

“In accordance with the above-mentioned decision, Bulgaria did not support the two draft Decisions of the Council on accession, on behalf of the EU, to the Istanbul Convention, with which the Council seeks approval from the European Parliament.”

The decision on the final accession of the EU to the Istanbul Convention will be taken by the Council by a qualified majority, the statement said. The vote will most likely take place in June 2023, after receiving approval from the European Parliament.

On February 15 2023, the plenary session of the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling on the Council to ensure rapid and full accession to the Istanbul Convention without further delay.

(Photo: Foreign Ministry)

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