TALLINN - Despite increasing pressure from EU officials to criminalize the solicitation of sex services, Justice Minister Rein Lang said the ministry would not draft legislation to this effect.
Lang (above) in the meantime appealed to neighboring countries for more cooperation in combating the sex industry rather than adopting an outright ban.
During a live interview with Finnish MTV, Lang said that, while preparing new legal acts, EU member states should analyse their effects on neighboring countries.
"The issue of the purchase of sexual services should be seen in a wider context," Lang told the MTV morning news program. "Estonia and Finland should cooperate as members, being able to preplan legal acts of crossborder effects and consult with neighbors about them."
His comments flew in the face of a recent EU initiative to criminalize the purchase of sex in all member states.
On Jan. 17, Siiri Oviir, a member of the Alliance of Democrats and Liberals for Europe in the European Parliament, motioned to amend a report on the trafficking of women and children. The bill was discussed in the European Parliament on Jan. 16.
"I would recommend that a very serious attitude be taken [on this issue] if we want to take resolute steps against a flourishing local prostitution market," said Oviir, who was elected to the European legislature from Estonia. "The legislative history of prostitution in Europe shows that, when prostitution is turned into a normal phenomenon, [the level of] human trafficking increases."
Regarding people as consumable objects is a violation of human rights, she stressed, and trafficking is the fastest growing type of organized crime.
"Men using prostitution services want unlimited access to different women," Oviir said. "This constant demand for new goods is the main fertilizer of human trafficking."
The MEP added that enormous work remained in changing social attitudes on the subject. Now is the time to act, she said, not talk, adding that current measures have failed to cope with the situation.
Lang agrees that action needs to be taken; however, criminalizing the purchase of sex is not the answer, he said. The minister expressed regret over Sweden's decision to pass an act that in turn influenced Finland as well as Denmark, Norway and Germany.
"If Finland should ban the purchase of sex, it will certainly influence the situation in Tallinn," Lang said. "We know that there were about 7 million border crossings at the Port of Tallinn in 2005, and that approximately 5 million of them were made by Finns on the Helsinki-Tallinn-Helsinki route."
Lang, who represents the Reform Party, said the Justice Ministry had no plans of writing a bill on the ban. He added that he hoped the issue would be taken up in Finnish Parliament.
"We believe that our laws are quite relevant," he added. "We have picked a sort of middle road in Estonia, which has been rather effective, and so in our opinion there is no reason for any changes. But the situation may change under the effect of Finnish laws."
Banning the purchase of sex, the minister said, would affect the situation of organized crime both in Tallinn and Helsinki, as borders no longer exist in the EU.
"We will also have to take into consideration Latvia's position on the issue," he added. "Estonia and Latvia are preparing to accede to the Schengen space in fall 2007. Border checks will finally be abolished, and the movement of people, including criminals, from country to country will be very simple."
On Jan. 16, during a meeting of EU justice and interior ministers in Vienna, Lang met with his Finnish colleague, Leena Luhtanen, to discuss that government's legislative action.
According to an Interior Ministry report, Lang reiterated his position that EU member countries should cooperate much more closely in political decisions of cross-border influence.
"The trafficking of human beings, mediation of prostitution and the organized crime connected with this does not recognize national borders. Fighting this presumes a legal space that would not simply shift the problem from one country to another," the Estonian minister said.
Luhtanen underlined that all arguments, including the cross-border influence of the intended piece of legislation, would be thoroughly discussed in handling the bill.
"The political debate concerning the bill still lies ahead," she said.