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5th Mar 2024

Women should fill two EU top jobs, Tusk says

Women should take up two of the EU's top jobs in future, EU Council president Donald Tusk has said, in what would help end decades of inequality.

"Gender balance means at least two women. Whether this is possible - we will see, but it is my plan and my personal ambition and I felt very strong support from almost everyone in this aspect," Tusk said in Brussels on Tuesday (28 May) after a summit dedicated to EU appointments.

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  • EU Council president Donald Tusk (l) with European Parliament President Antonio Tajani (c) in Brussels on Tuesday (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

He did not give more detail, but the biggest jobs in the EU capital are European Commission president, EU Council president, European Parliament (EP) president, and EU foreign relations chief.

Tusk also warned that gender balance was just one of four appointment criteria, including also "geography, the size of [EU] countries ... as well as political affiliation".

If Tusk fulfilled his "personal ambition" on gender it would help to redress a historical imbalance.

There has never been a female EU commission or EU Council head - though the council post has existed for just 10 years.

There have been only two female EP presidents - Nicole Fontaine and Simone Veil.

The foreign relations post, which is also 10-years old, has belonged to women - Catherine Ashton and Federica Mogherini - however.

Man's world

In an irony, Tusk said he would chair a new panel of six EU leaders to negotiate the appointments, but all six of them were men.

There are a handful of female candidates in the running for the EU commission presidency - Danish liberal EU commissioner Margrethe Vestager, Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaite, French International Monetary Fund head Christine Lagarde, and Bulgarian World Bank CEO Kristalina Georgieva.

Vestager's liberals did well in the EP elections, winning 48 extra seats to become the third largest group after the centre-right and centre-left ones.

But her appointment would fly in the face of the Spitzkenkandidaten system - the EU rule that the biggest group gets the pick for their 'lead candidate'.

Lithuania's Grybauskaite would be controversial due to her hawkish rhetoric on Russia. Lagarde and Georgieva are outliers in a field dominated by men.

The imbalance is also on show at lower levels in the EU hierarchies.

Women made up 36 percent of MEPs in 2018, but the figure was much lower in individual countries, such as Cyprus and Estonia (17 percent each).

Figures for the number of female MEPs elected last week have not been published yet.

At least six countries were on track to produce more low numbers, with the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Hungary, Malta, and Slovakia fielding fewer than 30 percent female candidates.

But the trend in the EP is towards a better balance.

The 36 percent figure for female MEPs in 2018 compares to just 16 percent in 1979, when EU elections began.

The last EP had five female vice-presidents out of 14 compared to three in the previous term. The number of female committee chairs rose to 12 out of 24 compared to eight.

Meanwhile, other individual countries painted a different picture to the Czech Republic or Hungary, with women making up 77 percent of Finnish MEPs the last time round, for instance.

Four of the largest EU countries - France, Italy, Poland, Spain - as well as Slovenia also fielded some 50 percent female candidates in last week's EP vote in a more egalitarian spirit.

The 2019 Finland figure was not yet available.

ECB post

The presidency of the European Central Bank (ECB) is also in the basket in the Tusk-led jobs talks.

The bank, which was created in 1998, has never had a female chief and there are few women candidates to pick from.

There used to be one female central bank chief in the 19-country eurozone, Cyprus' Chrystalla Georghadji, but she was replaced by a man in March.

The ECB has just one woman on its 25-member governing council and a handful of women on its supervisory board, but when it recently published vacancies for three senior posts, it had to extend the deadline because so few women applied.

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