23rd Oct 2016


Time for real debate on EU chauvinism

The European Commission announced in March 2011 its intention to address the gross imbalance of women and men on corporate boards in Europe.

A year and a half later, internal disagreement within the 27 member college of commissioners is blocking progress and undermining the credibility of the institution.

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  • 'Coffee. Two sugars' - 65 years after the Treaty of Rome, 97% of corporate presidents are men (Photo: diepuppenstubensammlerin)

Vice-President of the commission, Viviane Reding was Tuesday due to present a draft directive aiming to increase the representation of women on the boards of private companies in the EU.

Over the past months, the text of the proposal had already been watered down to such a degree that women’s associations were already dubious of its worth.

The application to only the largest publicly-quoted companies meant it would apply to very few employers; limiting the legislation to non-executive positions undermined all claims of improving women’s representation in decision-making; leaving the choice of sanctions up to the member states meant effective enforcement would be unlikely.

But just as the European Women's Lobby was responding to opposition from certain member states by noting that the (leaked) draft directive was "too weak to oppose," the initiative has come under threat before even being put forward for democratic debate.

The European Commission is supposed to be the "guardian of the EU treaties" and the treaties very clearly call on the EU to protect and promote equality between women and men.

The EU has well-established competence in the area of employment and has pioneered anti-discrimination in this field. However, 65 years after the Treaty of Rome, men continue to occupy more than 85 percent of board positions in the private sector and a stunning 97 percent of presidency posts.

In a Union which proclaims equality between women and men a founding and fundamental value, it is shocking to see any actors oppose measures for the equal access on basis of merit of women to top positions.

It is even more shocking to see the commissioners do so.

The European Parliament has called for strong measures and a number of member states have themselves already adopted legislation with targets and sanctions for non-compliance.

There is no excuse for the commission not to put forward a strong text and let the legislative debate take place in a free and democratic manner. Now, they have three more weeks to do just that.

The writer is a campaigner at The European Women's Lobby, a Brussels-based NGO


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