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25th May 2019

Barroso unlikely to get more women in next commission

  • Dutchwoman Neelie Kroes, in charge of competition, has arguably the strongest portfolio in the commission (Photo: European Commission)

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso on Thursday (12 November) admitted he is unlikely to achieve his aim of getting more women commissioners in the next commission than is currently the case.

To date it is clear that only three member states - Luxembourg, which is returning commissioner Viviane Reding; Cyprus, which is returning EU Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou; and Bulgaria, which is sending current foreign minister Rumiana Jeleva - have proposed women candidates despite several public requests, including a letter, by Mr Barroso.

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This number may rise to eight if Ireland, Denmark, Sweden, the UK and Greece all nominate women as they have been rumoured to be considering.

But it is unlikely to surpass the current count, where eight of the 27 commissioners are women, itself down from a high of ten, before two left to take up other posts.

Mr Barroso on Thursday set the bar as low as possible by comparing the situation to that of the member states themselves, among whom there is just one head of government (German Chancellor Angela Merkel ) and two heads of state (Lithuania's President Dalia Grybauskaite and her Finnish counterpart, Tarja Halonen).

"I think we'll get something better than the European Council - that I'm sure - but unfortunately I think we are not going to get to the position that I desire of a more balanced - in terms of gender - commission."

The issue also reflects the basic limits of Mr Barroso's position. While he may choose what portfolio a commissioner will have - itself something that can be used to try and persuade governments to send competent people to Brussels - he cannot simply choose a commissioner.

"I have also to work on this matter with the governments. I cannot impose on a concrete government that that government sends me a female candidate. And I cannot refuse a good competent commissioner just because he is a man either."

Around 22 member states have told Mr Barroso whom their intended commissioner is to be, including Germany, who has proposed the premier of Baden-Wuerttemberg, Guenter Oettinger; Austria, who has suggested research minister Johannes Hahn; and the Czech Republic, which will be sending Europe minister Stefan Füle.

The actual distribution of portfolios will be begin only when it is clear who will become the first EU foreign minister, set to be decided next week, as this person will also be vice-president of the commission, taking the country concerned out of the portfolio equation.

But even when this part of the "puzzle" is in place, the new commission - delayed by problems of ratification of the new Lisbon Treaty - is not expected to be on its feet for several weeks.

EU commissioners, whose mandate ran out on 31 October, have been warned that they may have to stay in their caretaker role until end of January 2010.

This is because the new batch of commissioners have to make it through hearings in parliament. Mr Barroso is said to be anxious that members of his team do not fall at the first parliamentary hurdle, with MEPs already sharpening their knives in preparation for taking on weak would-be commissioners.

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