A handful of European Union parliamentarians have opened a potential can of worms after complaining that the seat of the EU’s parliament, Strasbourg, has been overrun by prostitutes.
Many Strasbourg prostitutes were lured in from Eastern Europe
The Scandanavian members are demanding the hotels they stay in during their Strasbourg visits be declared prostitute-free zones.
"It's not about making prostitution illegal," said Karin Riis Joergensen, a Danish MP and one of several sponsors of a petition letter sent to Parliament President Hans Gert Poettering.
"We just don't want to live in hotels with prostitutes .… If some of my colleagues want to party, they should do that… but not at the place where we live .… We just want clean hotels."
The petition has received support from 37 Scandanavian MPs, but other parliamentarians are distancing themselves from the letter out of fear it could tarnish the parliament's reputation rather than diminish the overabundance of prostitutes in Strasbourg.
Others, such as Bavarian MP Manfred Ferber, insist the problem has been overstated.
"In my 14 years in the Parliament, it's never occurred to me that this was an issue," he says. "I've never seen anything like it, especially not in the hotel where I've stayed the last 11 years."
Drugs, manipulation and threats to family members back home in Eastern Europe keep the women in Strasbourg on the streets and up till now the European MP's have not been able to reach any kind of agreement on how to respond to the booming industry.
Karin Riis Joergensen said her colleagues are more interested in defending their reputations than addressing the problem.
"I always laugh when they bring that up (their reputations)," she said. "I'm excited to see what President Poettering will say about it."
And even Poeering has acknowledged the problem requires careful consideration.
"I have to look into this because they submitted a letter," he says. "It's kind of unleashed a storm of sorts .… The parliament's executive committee has asked a council of elders to investigate. We have to take this seriously but also avoid blowing it out of proportion."
'No way to live'
EU nations are split over the prostitution question
Many of the prostitutes have been brought in from Eastern Europe on the promise of earning good money in respectable jobs.
They end up being forced into working on the streets and while many can earn as much as 500 euro a night, most of their takings go to the pimp controlling them.
Jana, a prostitute from the Czech Republic working in Strasbourg, said clients usually pay well and that the whole process is discreet.
She said that on some occasions she has been given jobs by EU parliamentarian receptionists.
"I want to get away from it all so badly, she says. This is just no way for a person to live. I want to go out on the street like a normal human being… but there are just too many people right now who are making a profit off of me," she said.
Prostitution in France in tolerated so long as it does not disturb public order.
Most European nations are split over the issue, with a handful supporting it and others considering it illegal.