The European Parliament's Women's Rights and Gender Equality Committee has voted through a report that recommends the adoption of the 'Nordic Model' of prostitution laws.
Put forward by Mary Honeyball, Labour MEP for London, the report recommends the EU takes on the Swedish model of prostitution laws, which punishes the clients of prostitutes, rather than the sex workers themselves.
The model was recently voted through in the French parliament. Led by Women's Rights Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, the bill means anyone found paying for sex will be fined €1,500 (£1,250) for a first offence. If caught a second time, the fine would be increased to €3,000.
Fourteen of the European Parliament committee members voted in favour of the Swedish model, with two against and six abstentions.
The passing of the vote sends a strong signal in regards to Europe's position on prostitution laws. The report can also now be put forward to the full European Parliament to vote on.
This will take place at one of the Strasbourg plenary sessions in February, most likely during the week starting the 24th.
The Nordic model has proved highly successful in Scandinavia, where countries generally have a high level of gender equality and acknowledge the problems of exploitation within the sex industry. The laws have also been supported by survivors of prostitution and sex trafficking.
Commenting on the vote, Honeyball said: "This is a fantastic outcome. It will form a key part of the sea-change taking place in the way we view prostitution across Europe. We are now a step closer to an approach which recognises the fundamental injustice that takes place when a man buys a women's body.
"The majority of prostituted women in the UK are foreign. They are overwhelmingly from poorer countries and in many cases trafficked. Rather than continuing to pretend that buying sex is something that happens between consenting equals, we need to look at the coercive and often exploitative realities of the global sex trade.
"With France and Ireland switching the focus onto the men who purchase sex, and Germany re-thinking its laissez-faire system, the wind is clearly blowing in the direction of the Swedish Model. I hope that the European Parliament will be able to lead from the front in making this shift more widespread.
"The report recommends adopting the 'Nordic Model', which criminalises pimping, brothel keeping and buying sex, decriminalises people in prostitution and provides exiting services and support."
Brendan Wynne, Equality Now
"As a British MEP I am particularly keen to see the UK Government come down off the fence and take a clear stance on the issue."
Brendan Wynne, spokesman for Equality Now, also welcomed the vote: "It is vital that survivors of sex trafficking and sexual exploitation are listened to when recommending policy on prostitution.
"Global networks such as 'Sex Trafficking Survivors United' suggest that we need to target the demand which fuels the inherently violent sex industry. This is what Mary Honeyball MEP's FEMM Committee report proposes and we fully agree. The report recommends adopting the 'Nordic Model', which criminalises pimping, brothel keeping and buying sex, decriminalises people in prostitution and provides exiting services and support.
"This has already been effective in countries with higher levels of gender equality, such as Sweden, while countries which have legalised prostitution, such as the Netherlands and Germany, are increasingly realising that they got it wrong."