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Catherine Bearder MEP statement on sexual harassment in the European Parliament

As an MEP on the European Parliament’s Advisory Committee dealing with harassment complaints between Accredited Parliamentary Assistants (APAs) and Members (MEPs) I would like to make the following statement.

Since the beginning of 2014 I have been a member of this Advisory Committee which comprises of three Quaestor MEPs, one representative from APA Committee and one representative from DG Personnel (human resoruces). Also present at the Committee are non-voting observers from the Legal and Medical services of the Parliament. We convene once a month (or when a case is urgently needed to be seen) to hear from the complainant, their witnesses and the accused MEP. We are shown text messages, emails or other forms of evidence before passing our recommendation to the President of the European Parliament. The President then presents the findings to the accused MEP and can introduce sanctions such as withholding daily allowances and/or publicly announcing the findings in the plenary chamber. APAs can access the Parliament’s intranet to make a complaint or via DG Personnel. There is also a conciliation service should they feel this is an acceptable route to solve any issues.

The European Parliament is developing education and prevention practices. The Parliament introduced an MEP handbook called “zero harassment in the workplace”. The handbook advises MEPs on their roles and responsibilities to the APAs. This handbook was sent to each MEP and their offices and is accessible online. The Parliament is producing a handbook for APAs which we expect to be published next month. I have raised my concerns about trainees who are often the most vulnerable and most insecure financially but they are currently not included in the staff statute. I will also be calling for the European Parliament to introduce a “mandatory induction process” for MEPs at the beginning of their term of office to improve their knowledge of their roles and responsibilities as a Member in relation to staff in their offices.

Since 2009 APAs have been formally employed by the Parliament, not the MEP. MEPs that want to make an APA redundant would need to go through the same “conciliation procedure”.  The European Parliament has a duty of care to its employees and will treat its staff fairly if a dispute cannot be resolved between the APA and the MEP.

To conclude: Are we perfect? No. Have we got a long way to go? Yes. Are we working on it? Yes. The public disclosure of harassment cases has got more people talking about this problem and the European Parliament must act swiftly and properly to demonstrate we are a fair, safe and respectful place for all people to come and work.  Coming forward is distressing but we must support the victims and investigate their cases.

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