2014 will be a big year for the issue of prostitution. France and Ireland are both looking to move towards a Swedish-style system - which criminalises buying sex but legalises selling it - and Holland and Germany appear to be retreating from their previous laissez-faire stances. Countries like Britain (which has a muddled approach) are coming to a crossroads, and will need to choose their path: Swedish or Dutch.
I support the Swedish Model (also used in Iceland and Norway), and have written a report for the European Parliament women's committee advocating it. We voted through the report today so it will go to the full parliament next month, sending a strong signal that the wind is blowing in the direction of Scandinavia.
For me the issue comes down ambition. The case made by advocates of the Dutch system - that women can be prostituted more safely in a world where buying sex is legal -represents a dubious compromise. Rather than aspiring to genuine gender equality, their argument looks to normalise men paying women for sex - to accept prostitution as a fact of life, and merely reduce the risks attached to it.
Not only am I completely unconvinced that decriminalisation does in fact make prostitution safer - as the fact that just 44 of Germany's 400,000 prostitutes have registered for health benefits testifies - but I also find it profoundly unambitious as a position. Prostitutes are overwhelmingly female and, as British "review" site 'Punternet' or France's 'Hands off my whore' campaign show, they are viewed in a disrespectful and often abusive way by men who use them. There is a fundamental imbalance between sellers and buyers of sex, which will only be exacerbated as the sex trade becomes more globalised. It's no surprise that, according to a 2003 study, 89% of prostitutes would leave the industry if they could. We can do better, surely, than make their exploitation better regulated?
Many say there is a reason prostitution is the 'oldest profession'; that the purchase of sex is intractable, a part of men's nature. I would point those people towards Sweden where, thanks to their change in the law, the number of male sex buyers decreased from 13.6% to 7.9% between 1996 and 2008. In the same period the proportion of men who thought using prostitutes should be illegal soared from 20% to 60%. The implementation of the Swedish Model has not just been a practical success; it has caused a fundamental improvement on attitudes to women.
I see no reason why this change cannot happen across Europe, and I hope my report will help the shift take place. We must look for an ambitious solution to the imbalance at the heart of the sex trade - not just find a better way of tolerating it.