Ministers and MEPs set for showdown in ECB gender dispute
By Benjamin Fox
Ministers and MEPs are poised for a showdown over the appointment of the newest member of the European Central Bank (ECB's) six-man executive board over what the European Parliament claims is systematic gender bias.
MEPs on the parliament's economic and monetary affairs committee announced in September it would indefinitely postpone the appointment, criticising the fact that none of the bank's executive board would be women if it went through.
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The executive board has been men-only since Austrian central banker Gertrude Tumpel Gugerell stood down in May 2011.
Committee chair Sharon Bowles emphasised the "symbolic and practical effects" of no women being among the six ECB members or 17 national central bank governors.
However, a report by Suddeutsche Zeitung on Monday (15 October) indicated that EU finance ministers are prepared to ignore the wishes of the assembly.
Mersch will appear before the committee next week in Strasbourg and could be formally endorsed by the parliament later that week if MEPs back down.
It is not clear whether MEPs will continue to hang tough after next week's hearing. The centre-right EPP is understood to want the appointment to go ahead. EPP economic spokesman Jean Paul Gauzes told reporters last week that: "I agree with the argument, but you can't leave things hanging for months and months.
Sylvie Goulard, on the other hand, said that a rejection was the right response to "failure by Council to meet our demands".
Committee chair Sharon Bowles, a British Liberal MEP, wrote to Eurogroup chair Jean-Claude Juncker in May calling on him to propose candidates of each gender for the job. She also urged him to take steps to promote women to senior posts in the ECB as well as national banks.
Mersch has served as governor of Luxemburg's central bank since 1998, and was appointed to the board for an eight-year term by the 17 eurozone finance ministers in July. He appeared for a 90 minute hearing before MEPs in September.
Under the EU treaties the parliament has to be consulted before ECB appointments can be made but it has no formal veto power.
The move is the latest flexing of muscles by the parliament against the other institutions, particularly as MEPs bid to beef up scrutiny of the bank.
The assembly angered the ECB's top officials in January 2010 when it insisted that all executive board members be grilled by deputies at a pre-appointment hearing, a procedure that had previously been reserved for the bank's president.