Are European women really “on-board”?

EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding made waves on September 4th, announcing her intention to table legislation that will impose gender quotas of at least 40% women (by 2020) on boards of European state-owned companies.

In a response to Reding’s plans, the media headlines on September 17th reported on a growing coalition of Member States opposing the gender quota legislation.

This coalition is led by the UK, and it involves nine Member States including the Netherlands and Malta. Ironically Malta is the only delegation in the European Parliament that has no female MEPs.

Reding’s proposal is one way to highlight persistent gender imbalances across the EU, which are more evident in the public and private sectors.

Surprisingly, one of the EU’s most powerful bodies, the European Central Bank (ECB) does not seem to share this point of view.

The ECB has three principle boards that define the Bank’s policy and actions: (1) the Executive Board, which runs the Bank’s day-to-day business. (2) The Governing Council that is responsible for policy. (3) The General Council which brings together EU central bankers.

Not one single woman is currently sitting on  these boards. All are run by men.

Gertrude Tumpel-Gugerell of Austria was the last woman sitting on the ECB board between 1998 and 2011. She was then replaced by Peter Praet of Belgium in preference to other female candidates

The recent nomination of Mr. Yves Mersch of Luxembourg to the ECB’s Executive Board (replacing Jose Manuel Gonzalez Paramo of Spain) sparked objections from many MEPs, myself included, who protested against the fact that no female candidate was even considered for the post.

While the EP has no power to block ECB nominations, our seal of approval is needed for the ECB candidate to take office.

Keeping this fact in consideration, colleagues from the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs maintained on September 11th their refusal to hold a required hearing on Mr. Mersch’s candidacy, at least until a female candidate is put forward by the governments for the post.

In my view, improving gender equality in European public institutions and corporations should be seen as high priority by policy makers and public servants as such.

While women account for about half of EU’s total population, they are still absent from positions of power in politics and business, as well as in other fields.

According to figures from the European Commission less than 1 in 4 members of national parliaments is a woman (with major differences across the EU); in the European Parliament, 3 in 10 members are women for the current 2009-2014 term).

In the labour markets, where women comprise about 64.4% of workers, only 1 out of 10 women is a member of boards in Europe’s largest publicly quoted companies and just 3% of them are acting as board chairpersons.

Changing this reality is a challenge faced not only by European policy makers, but also by women themselves who face difficulties entering areas that are known as male-dominated.

Legislation can pave the way forward to promote gender balance in European decision-making processes and positions of power, but the same can be done by self-reflection and commitment to the issue – especially in EU governing institutions such as the ECB…

Greetings from the European Parliament,

Lidia Geringer de Oedenberg

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