1999 marks a new step in the construction of the European Union. Since
the first of January 1999 the European Union united its economic and political processes
with a common currency-the Euro. This political and economic construction cannot happen
without common norms, common laws, and common strategies. As the European Union is
constructed, it wants to reaffirm basic principals of human rights. It is within these
considerations that a strong, but covert battle is taking place on the question of the
legalization of the market of the body. On one side, Sweden has established a new norm
with its new law that criminalizes the men who buy sexual services-johns-since January
1999. On the other side, wherever possible, the Netherlands is pushing the norm which
legalizes pimping. Through a new law proposed on February 2, 1999 in the Dutch parliament,
brothels will be legalized. The Netherlands also pushes for this new norm in any debate
that takes place among the European Parliament, the Council of Europe, or in any
international forum and organization. For more than a decade, representatives of the
Netherlands have progressively excluded prostitution from any discussion which would
connect it to violence against women and trafficking in women.
Whats at stake in Europe? Legislative and social norms created here will serve as
models beyond Europe with international consequences. Europe considers itself to hold and
present high secular principals of human rights to the world. It has a strong and
ambitious mission to enhance its image in the eyes of the world.
But what is Europe exactly? Even for the European citizen of the European Union, things
seem to be very complicated and not always understandable. In June 1999 a new parliament
will be elected and in the fifteen countries of the European Union-the campaigns have
already started. The main issues being addressed are empowerment, work and the
environment. There is no mention of sexual violence or prostitution, except in the program
of the European Party, a Dutch party, which wants to move into other European Union
countries. Its program does mention the fight against child pornography and
Is Europe the economic and political Europe of the European Union, or is it more than
that? Europe has a wooly and precise identity at the same time. Depending on the site of
the project of cooperation, it is a cultural, a geographical, a political or an economic
entity. Before the split of the communist block, Europe seemed to have a clear definition.
The myth of a European identity was built on the idea of democracy, human rights and
political and economic interests. The establishment of the two main bodies of Europe-the
Council of Europe and the European Union-took into account those ideas. But while the
first was establishing human rights and cultural principals, the second was focusing on
political and economic construction. To understand the mechanisms of those two official,
independent political structures and their influence in world policy, and specifically on
the issue of trafficking and prostitution, one must go back to their origins.
The Council of Europe
In 1999, the Council of Europe celebrates its 50th anniversary and the 50th
anniversary of the European Convention of Human Rights. Created in May 1949 in a London
Conference, its purpose after World War II was to pursue a peace process, based upon
"justice and international cooperation," which was considered to be "vital
for the preservation of human society and civilization." In Article 1a and b of its
statute, it defines the frame of common action in economic, social, cultural, scientific,
legal and administrative matters and in maintenance and further realization of human
rights and fundamental freedom."
In fact, during the last 50 years, most of the United Nations Conventions connected to
human rights have found their equivalent in European Conventions within the Council of
Europe--except the Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of
Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others, 2 December 1949. The Council of Europe deals
with all the cultural, educational, scientific, health and human rights issues, and even
has sanction mechanisms on human rights questions as defined in the European Declaration
of Human Rights of 1949. The question of democracy has always been in the center of the
debates. In 1969, Greece was pushed to leave the Council of Europe because of the Colonel
Putsch. Since 1949, progressively, most of the European countries have become members of
the European Council. Since the breakup of the communist block, many new countries have
joined the Council of Europe, which today is made up of forty countries. Many of the newly
joined countries are ones from which women are trafficked. This is one of the reasons why
many countries from the former Soviet Union were in attendance at the conference on
trafficking in Strasbourg in June 1998, even if they are not part of the European Council.
The United States and Japan have observatory status at the Council of Europe; and
Israel and Canada have a deliberatory status at the parliamentary level, even if not
officially belonging to the European Council. Three hundred and sixty nine NGOs have
consultative status, among which we can find the International Federation of the
The European Union
In 1957, Germany, Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, signed the
Rome Treaty, which created the Economic European Community. During the last forty years,
this new entity, whose initial project was a common market, has grown to become the
European Union in 1993, and in 1999 is comprised of 15 countries. The institution of the
European Union is built upon a parliament with 626 members elected from the member
countries, a Council of Ministers and a Commission of 20 members, a Court of Justice, a
European Central Bank and a European Committee on Budgetary Control.
The question of equality between men and women has become one important issue in the
European Union in 1984, when the Commission of the Rights of Women was created. In 1993,
the question of trafficking also became an issue, but disconnected from the issue of
prostitution. In 1997, an inter-ministerial conference in The Hague tried to establish
common guidelines to combat trafficking. The question of violence against women has also
become a crucial issue, but at the same time, prostitution has been excluded from the
theme of violence against women. Every year funds have been given on a specific aspect of
violence against women. The Daphne funds were created for this purpose and are awarded to
NGOs working in cooperation in different countries of the European Union. In 1997-1998,
the Daphne Funds were awarded to projects against trafficking, but excluded programs that
precisely dealt with prostitution. In 1999, the Daphne funds were given to projects
against domestic violence within the conceptual framework of the year: "the year of
zero tolerance of violence against women".
It is interesting to notice that large public campaigns are operated to address the
questions of equality and violence against women, and at the same time, the issue of
prostitution has been systematically put aside because it is connected with the economic
growth of the sex industry. The Dutch, with the complicity or solidarity of most of the
countries of the EU, have conceptualized and pushed their liberal project which makes of
the human body a consumer product.
Even if European citizens elect the parliament, there is no strong civil lobby that can
influence its decisions. No NGOs have consultative status. This lack of representation is
the reason a group of women from nine European countries created the European Womens
Lobby in 1990. Since then it has been recognized by the European parliament as a valid
interlocutor on womens right issues. Today, the European Womens Lobby, with
2,700 federated NGOs throughout Europe, has an official, global anti-prostitution stand.
But in each country of Europe, the national branch of the Lobby does not always have the
same position. The president of the European Women's Lobby, Denise Fuks, elected in June
1998, has an uncompromising stand on prostitution. The existence itself of the European
Women's Lobby has been endangered lately, with the will of the European Commission to
remove the Commission on the Rights of Women in December 1998. A strong public
mobilization has delayed this decision to the year 2001.
Europe and the UN Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and
of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others
Since the Conference on Trafficking in Women at the Council of Europe in June 1998,
there has been a call for a new convention to replace the convention of 2 December 1949.
One of the arguments advanced is that the 1949 Convention has never been properly applied.
In the project for a new convention, the concept of "forced" or "non
voluntary prostitution" has replaced the link made in the Convention of 1949 between
trafficking and prostitution. Under the banner of a united fight against trafficking, any
oppositional stand is considered to be only ideological. The report of this conference is
very clear. The Convention of 1949 isnt even mentioned anymore among the UN or
European international instruments to fight trafficking. Nevertheless, this convention is
still listed as one of the UN instruments against slavery and slavery-like practices. To
be effective, the 1949 Convention needs an optional protocol for implementation.
This new Convention will effectively break the connection between prostitution and
trafficking. Then prostitution will be considered only in the economic sector. This is
probably one of the reasons that the Dutch are pushing so strongly to draft a new
convention on trafficking within Europe.
The question to be considered is: can Europe celebrate the Human Rights Declaration and
the abolition of slavery when it promotes a contemporary form of slavery-prostitution. The
myth of the European construction of democracy is at that price and it will serve as a
model for the rest of the world.
Members and number of representatives at the Council of Europe
The following is a list of countries with the number of representatives they have at
the Council of Europe. If the country has ratified the 1949 Convention for the Suppression
of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others, the date
of ratification is given. It is important to indicate that the former communist countries
and former Soviet Union have ratified the 1949 Convention. Japan who has an observatory
status ratified the Convention in 1958; and Israel who has deliberating status ratified
the Convention in 1950.