European Union
Updated February 8, 2013
The European Union (EU) has taken a number of actions to combat violence against women in general and domestic violence in particular. While the majority of these steps have not been legally binding on member states, they still represent important advances in forming a consensus of obligation and raising awareness. On-going activities by the EU will hopefully solidify a plan of action to address violence against women and create binding obligations in the coming years.
Treaties and Resolutions
In 1986, the European Parliament, the directly-elected legislative body of the EU, adopted the Resolution on Violence against Women.[1] Among the many recommendations for legal recognition of gender-based crimes, the resolution also called for victims’ services, including legal assistance and counseling in shelters, as well as training of those who may come into contact with domestic violence victims.[2] In recognizing “the need to provide care and assistance for all battered women, regardless of their marital status or whether or not they have children,” the resolution also addressed issues such as housing, economic dependence and the need for awareness programs.[3] A later resolution, entitled Resolution on the report from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions on the state of women's health in the European Community, called on Member States to "make domestic violence against women, including rape within marriage and sexual mutilation, a criminal offence and to set up services to help women who are victims of this kind of violence."[4]
In 2007, the Treaty of Lisbon[5] was created as the constitutional basis of the European Union. Annexed to the treaty are several declarations, including Declaration 19 which states “The Conference agrees that, in its general efforts to eliminate inequalities between women and men, the Union will aim in its different policies to combat all kinds of domestic violence. The Member States should take all necessary measures to prevent and punish these criminal acts and to support and protect the victims.”[6] Although as a declaration this statement is not legally binding, it marked the first time domestic violence had ever been specifically referenced in an EU treaty.[7]
            The European Parliament adopted another resolution on violence against women in 2009. This resolution, entitled Elimination of Violence against Women, referenced numerous causes and consequences of violence against women and urged member states to improve national laws and policies to combat violence against women.[8] Among the many actions called for by the resolution were financial support for victim services, creation of a coherent EU policy plan, and development of targeted educational campaigns.[9] In 2009 the European Parliament also adopted a declaration creating a “Say NO to Violence against Women” campaign.[10] This campaign is currently being operated in conjunction with UNIFEM.[11]
            Domestic Violence Regulations and Conclusions
            The EU has committed to ending gender-based violence in Europe. In particular, the EU has said it will:
·         Protect women and children from gender based violence through a forthcoming package of legislation and practical measures on Victims' Rights;
·         Develop actions under the EU gender equality policy that particularly focus on the empowerment of women, awareness raising and collection and analysis of statistics on violence against women; and
·         Continue financial support through the Daphne III program[12] to non-governmental organizations and local authorities for the implementation of transnational projects to combat violence against women, children and young people.[13]
One measure of protection that has been discussed is creating uniform rules regarding domestic violence that would cover the entire EU. This would ensure that victims of domestic violence in one country would receive similar protection in any of the EU’s other nations.[14] Although supporters, including the EU justice chief, expressed hope that the uniform rules would be adopted before 2012, the new system has yet to be approved.[15] Proposed measures include inter-country restraining orders and increased protection of a victim’s identity.[16]
In 2010, the Council of the European Union adopted Conclusions on the Eradication of Violence against Women in the European Union.[17] Although not binding on EU member states, Council Conclusions reflect the direction of EU policies and are influential as political statements.[18] Among other things, the Conclusions urge member states to develop national strategies for combating violence against women and devote appropriate resources to these measures.[19] The Conclusions also call on the European Commission to create a European Strategy for preventing and combating violence against women that could encompass the common principles and goals of EU members, as well as coordinate EU-wide campaigns on awareness-raising and data collection.[20]
In 2006, the European Economic and Social Committee also issued conclusions and recommendations specifically addressing domestic violence. The Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on Domestic Violence against women gives recommendations on domestic violence to several EU bodies, including the EU Council presidencies, the Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, and member states.[21] The opinion recommended the creation of a pan-European strategy, supplemented by national action plans created by individual member states.[22] The opinion not only gives details for elements to be included in these plans, but also makes recommendations for monitoring, data collection, prevention, and addressing particularly vulnerable groups such as migrant women.[23] The Committee issued a follow-up Opinion on Children as Indirect Victims of Domestic Violence later that year.[24]
Reports, Guidelines and Action Plans
            In 2008, the EU created a set of guidelines to outline their operational objectives and intervention tools for actions on combating violence against women.[25] The EU guidelines on violence against women and girls accordingly addresses actions aimed at preventing violence, protecting and supporting victims and prosecuting perpetrators.[26] As directed by the 2009 Parliament resolution, the EU has also committed to creating a targeted policy plan to combat violence against women. Although the policy in its final stage has not been released yet, recommendations from the EU Advisory Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men provide a useful framework for what the future policy might look like.[27]
            In an effort to better understand the causes and consequences of violence against women, reports on violence against women, including domestic violence, have also been released by several bodies of the EU. In 2010, the European Commission Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities released a report on “Violence against women and the role of gender equality, social inclusion, and health strategies.”[28] This report examines violence against women in Europe, including analysis of data and recent trends, review of legislation and national action plans, and relevant programs for prevention and victim support.[29]
            In 2010 the European Commission also released an Action Plan Implementing the Stockholm Programme.[30] The Stockholm Programme is a broad five-year plan aimed at addressing fundamental rights in Europe by creating guidelines for justice and internal affairs.[31] The Action Plan builds on the Programme by creating concrete action points for member states to accomplish by 2015.[32] The Action Plan, which states that “[a]ll policy instruments available will be deployed to provide a robust European response to violence against women and children, including domestic violence,” asks for the Commission to communicate a strategy to combat violence against women, including domestic violence, and follow up with an EU action plan by 2012.[33]
Finally, the EU has developed a series of action plans to combat violence against women. The first Community Framework Strategy on Gender Equality was developed for the period between 2001 and 2005.[34] In 2006, a new Roadmap for Equality between Women and Men was introduced, with goals in six priority areas.[35] One priority area was “Eradicating Gender-based Violence and Trafficking,” with key actions including establishing a system for compiling statistics across the EU and exchanging good practices and research between EU member states.[36] The current Strategy for Equality between Women and Men, covering 2010-2015, again prioritizes an end to gender-based violence and commits to adopting an EU-wide strategy on combatting violence against women.[37]
European Court of Justice Case Law
            The European Court of Justice (ECJ), the highest court in the European Union in matters of European Union law, has touched on domestic violence in its cases. The primary case on domestic violence heard by the ECJ was the matter of Gueye (C-489/09) and Salmerón Sánchez (C-1/10) on Sept. 15, 2011.[38] This case raised the issue of whether EU law, through the EU Fundamental Rights Charter, regulates national criminal law on domestic violence, in particular the imposition of an additional restraining order on convicted perpetrators of domestic violence where the order was against the wishes of the victims.[39] The ECJ ruled that the issue was a matter of substantive law (proportionality and legality of minimum sentences) and not a matter of criminal procedural law that would raise issues under the EU Fundamental Rights Charter.[40] Therefore, the court held that the issue of obligatory restraining orders and their possible implications on victims was outside the scope of EU and so the court would defer to the state’s domestic law.[41]

[1] European Parliament, Resolution on Violence against Women, Doc. A2-44/86, Official Journal C176, (July 14, 1986),
[2] Ibid., at ¶¶ 19-31.
[3] Ibid.
[4] European Parliament, Resolution on the report from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions on the state of women's health in the European Community, ¶23, Doc. COM(97)0224 C4-0333/97, Official Journal C175 (21 June 1999),
[5] European Union, Treaty of Lisbon Amending the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty Establishing the European Community, Doc. 2007/C 306/01 (13 Dec. 2007)
[6] European Union, Declaration on Article 8 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, Official Journal 306 (17 Dec. 2007),
[7] “TD says Lisbon will help tackle domestic violence,” Cork Independent, 1 Oct. 2009,
[8] European Parliament, Resolution of 26 Nov. 2009 on elimination of violence against women, Doc. P7_TA(2009)0098 (26 Nov. 2009),
[9] Ibid.
[10] “European Parliament adopts ‘Say NO to Violence against Women declaration,” European Union, 21 Apr. 2009,
[11] “Say NO: UNiTE to end violence against women,” UN Women,
[12] “Daphne III Funding Programme,” European Commission,
[13] “Dignity, integrity and an end to gender-based violence,” European Commission,
[14] “EU-wide domestic violence rules possible this year: Poland,” EUbusiness, 19 July 2011,
[15] Ibid.
[16] Ibid.
[17] Council of the European Union, Council conclusions on the Eradication of Violence Against Women in the European Union, 8 Mar. 2010,
[18] “Council of European Union: Policymaking through Council ‘Conclusions,’” Statewatch Observatory,
[20] Ibid. at ¶¶46-49.
[21] European Economic and Social Committee, Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on Domestic violence against women, Doc. 2006/C 110/15, Official Journal C 110/89, 9 May 2006,
[22] Ibid.
[23] Ibid.
[24] European Economic and Social Committee, Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on Children as indirect victims of domestic violence, Doc. 2006/C 325/15, Official Journal C 325/60, 30 Dec. 2006,
[27] Advisory Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men, Opinion on EU Strategy on Violence Against Women and Girls, European Commission, Dec. 2010,
[28] Expert Group on Gender Equality and Social Inclusion, Violence against women and the role of gender equality, social inclusion and health strategies, European Commission, Sept. 2010,
[29] Ibid.
[30] European Commission, Action Plan Implementing the Stockholm Programme, Doc. COM(2010) 171, 20 Apr. 2010,
[31] European Council, The Stockholm Programme, Doc. 2010/C 115/01, Official Journal C 115/1, 4 May 2010,
[32] European Commission, Action Plan Implementing the Stockholm Program,
[33] Ibid.
[34] European Commission, Towards a Community Framework Strategy on Gender Equality (2001-2005), Doc. COM(2000) 335, 7 June 2000,
[35] European Commission, A Roadmap for Equality between Women and Men (2006-2010, Doc. SEC(2006) 275, 3 Mar. 2006,
[36] Ibid. at Priority Area 4.
[37] European Commission, Strategy for Equality between Women and Men (2010-2015), Doc. SEC(2010) 1079, 21 Sept. 2010,
[38] C-489/09 and C-1/10, Gueye and Salmerson Sanchez [2011] E.C.R. I-0000, For commentary on the case, see John Morijn, “The ECJ side-stepping the Stockholm syndrome in domestic violence cases, and its implications,” 9 Jan. 2012,
[39] Ibid.
[40] Ibid.
[41] Ibid.