Sunday

22nd Sep 2019

EU's most powerful women take aim at male elite

Some of the most powerful women in the EU are discussing how to bring gender equality to European politics, an arena that continues to be overwhelmingly dominated by men.

A who's who of women politicians in Brussels met on Wednesday (16 September) to see how they can better promote women in the EU capital, where women's names routinely fail to be mentioned for the top jobs.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • There were seven women in Jose Manuel Barroso's first commission in 2004 (Photo: European Commission)

The 15-strong gathering, including four EU commissioners, Sweden's Europe minister and seven parliament committee heads, wants women to become better networkers and better at promoting one another in politics.

"There is still a glass ceiling to reach the very top of European politics. It is still very much an old boy's network and men are very good at praising each other and promoting each other," Finnish Green MEP and head of the human-rights sub-committee, Haidi Hautala, told EUobserver.

"But as there are so few women, this does not really happen."

Danuta Huebner, the head of the parliament's regional development committee and a former EU commissioner, also stressed the importance of women supporting one another.

"We should do more about networking - that's where we're extremely weak. If we start some networking of women in European institutions, this could have some impact. If you are alone, you just behave as those around you," said the Polish politician.

The women's initiative comes as the 27-nation club gears itself up for what is likely to be fierce haggling on new EU commissioners and their portfolios. This year, the possible creation of two new high-level jobs - an EU foreign representative and an EU president - will bring extra spice to the negotiations.

None of the names often mentioned for the posts are those of women.

Diana Wallis, vice-president of the European Parliament, said the main point of Wednesday's meeting was to say:

"Here we are, a group of women all in fairly high posts in the European institutions, so what's all this chat about there not being women able to do any of the senior jobs either as commissioners, or any other posts that might come up under the treaty of Lisbon."

Those EU family portraits

Although gender equality is enshrined in EU law, there is often little evidence of it at the top of European politics. The "family portraits" of the regular gatherings of EU leaders are eloquent witnesses of this - amid a sea of men, German chancellor Angela Merkel is the only woman head of government.

"We talk about gender equality more and more and we have all those laws and everything that is needed to give everyone an equal chance in the political life [yet] when it comes to concrete cases, jobs for taking responsibility in Europe, somehow women disappear," said Mrs Huebner.

To illustrate her point, she spoke about a 10-minute video to commemorate the 10th anniversary of European Monetary Union. "There were no women in this, like women did not exist in the history of European integration."

The group has sent a wishlist to newly re-elected European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and national governments to ask that member states present both a man and woman candidate for commissioner posts and that Mr Barroso make sure his team of commissioners is equally balanced.

At the moment, there are eight women commissioners in the 27-member college. Women represent 35 percent of MEPs in the 736-member strong parliament, with Finland sending the highest proportion of women to Brussels (61%) and Malta, with no women for the second legislature running, the least.

According to Mrs Wallis, there was a "real buzz" around the table on Wednesday that these politicians could keep up the pressure even after the negotiations on EU posts begins in earnest.

Wallstrom, Robinson, Halonen

One of the main objectives is for the group to drop names of qualified politicians into the EU jobs discussion, with Mrs Hautala mentioning Finnish President Tarja Halonen, former UN human rights commissioner Mary Robinson and communications commissioner Margot Wallstrom for the EU foreign minister or president jobs.

Mrs Wallstrom, for her part, did not categorically deny interest in such a post, but pointed out she had already dedicated much of her life to a public career, including the last 10 years as commissioner in Brussels.

"There are so many good women candidates and we need to get them out there," she told this website, offering to be a "mentor" to others seeking EU jobs.

The women's proposals are set to meet resistance among national capitals - even in those countries considered to have a more progressive gender equality policy. Mrs Hautala said she discussed the idea of each government suggesting two candidates for a commission post with Finnish leader Matti Vanhanen.

"Even our prime minister is not convinced," she said, with Mr Vanhanen fearing the proposal would take power away from member states' right to choose commissioners.

Agenda

Europe goes to New York This WEEK

Iran and climate change likely to dominate as French president Emmanuel Macron speaks for Europe at the UN general assembly in New York this week.

Opinion

Dismiss Italy's Salvini at your peril

Matteo Salvini's recent gambit may have failed, but, in his own words: "From today you will find me even more pissed off and determined. I will go from town to town and we will take this country back."

Opinion

Brexit raises questions for EU defence integration

Brussels' current vision for cooperation on defence, where third countries can contribute but have no say in decision-making and in the guidance of operations, is unlikely to be attractive to the UK.

News in Brief

  1. Ireland: right Brexit deal is 'not yet close'
  2. UK secrecy on Brexit holds back wider EU talks
  3. Feminist mass protest in Spain after 19 murders this summer
  4. Global climate strike starts ahead of UN summit
  5. UK Brexit minister to meet Barnier on Friday
  6. Russia-Ukraine gas deal talks show 'progress'
  7. Nobel economist: Ireland 'not good EU citizen' on taxes
  8. Germany takes carbon border tax on board

Column

These are the crunch issues for the 2019-2024 EU commission

These developments will largely determine who will be running the world in the coming decades and perhaps generations. If the Europeans can't find an answer over the five years, they will be toast. And we haven't even mentioned climate change.

Podcast

Trumpworld In Europe

Pastors and plutocrats are sponsoring an ultra-conservative agenda in Europe. Many of them have links to Donald Trump.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  2. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  6. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  8. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  9. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  10. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  11. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat

Latest News

  1. Europe goes to New York This WEEK
  2. Nine EU 'commissioners' asked to clarify declarations
  3. Dismiss Italy's Salvini at your peril
  4. Malta PM accused of 'blackmail' over slain reporter
  5. Diplomats back Romania's Kovesi for EU top prosecutor
  6. Brexit raises questions for EU defence integration
  7. Low-carbon cities can unlock €21tn by 2050, report finds
  8. France, Italy want 'automatic' distribution of migrants

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  5. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  8. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us