Friday

14th Dec 2018

Women quotas are 'demeaning', says Latvian ex-president

  • Europe should promote 'meritocracy', not gender quotas, says Ms Vike-Freiberga (Photo: Valentina Pop)

The EU commission's idea of imposing quotas on women in businesses is based on the "demeaning" principle that no woman can make it on her own merits, says former Latvian president Vaira Vike-Freiberga.

"What does it actually mean to have quotas? It's to say we don't have enough competent or interested women to do a certain job," Ms Vike-Freiberga told the EUobserver on Tuesday (8 March) on the margins of a gender equality workshop organised by the Norwegian funding scheme for eastern European countries - EEA/Norway Grants.

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

On the same day, in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, a special event with EU commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso and vice-president Viviane Reding stressed the importance of closing the gender gap on companies' executive boards via a special pledge Ms Reding is promoting.

But to the 73-year old Vike-Freiberga, quotas are "demeaning", not because they remind her of Soviet times, but because as a psychology professor, she "always felt I could compete with any man."

"I would not need to get in on any quota and find it offensive to be given a grant or made professor just because I'm a woman," she said.

Instead of artificial targets, her vision of an ideal European society revolves around the concept of "meritocracy," where people are given a job according to their qualifications and talent, regardless of their gender, religion or skin-colour.

A useful example, according to the Latvian, is that of the Viennese symphonic orchestra, for a long time a male stronghold. A female cello player, however, at some point went to court after she had been refused a job despite the jury having recognised her as the best candidate. After she won on anti-discrimination grounds, the selection procedure was changed so that nowadays when somebody is auditioning for a position in the orchestra they have to do it behind a screen, and the jury only hears the sound, without seeing the actual person.

"This is meritocracy, this is my ideal of how a society should work," said Ms Vike-Freiberga.

Asked how meritocracy worked in the case of the current EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who was selected by EU leaders along with Herman Van Rompuy, for whose position - head of the European Council - Ms Vike-Freiberga ran openly in 2009, she said: "My objection to the process is that there was no process – these two position were selected in the good old way it had been done for many years in the past. To call it an election is really a misnomer."

This way of taking decisions is a major turn-off for citizens, who would be more interested in EU affairs if the process was more transparent, the Latvian politician argues.

Opinion

Women in the EU: an untapped resource

Women might just be one of the greatest, largely untapped, resources that Europe has in meeting its demographic challenge, writes Birgitta Ohlsson.

Anti-semitism 'disturbingly normalised' in Europe

Almost 40 percent of European Jews contemplate leaving their home country because they no longer feel safe, and almost 85 percent say their number one concern in Europe is anti-semitism and racism, according to a new EU survey.

Merkel loyalist AKK wins CDU leadership battle

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, seen as championing similar policies to Angela Merkel, has won the CDU party leadership contest and is thus the frontrunner to become chancellor once Merkel leaves. But a split party will mean challenges.

Analysis

CDU election - Merkel's big gamble or master move?

As the functions of Christian Democratic Union party leader and chancellor have historically always been held by the same person, the next CDU leader could take over Merkel's main job as well.

EU warns tech giants on Russian fake news

Social media platforms are told to tackle fake accounts and the spread of fake news more effectively before the European elections next May - or face regulation.

Soros' university forced out of Budapest, despite EU pledges

The American university is forced to move to Vienna, as EU institutions fail to curb Hungarian nationalist premier, Viktor Orban's push against academic freedom. "It is a dark day for Europe and a dark day for Hungary," the rector said.

News in Brief

  1. Selmayr has no comment on MEPs' call to resign
  2. May had 'robust' discussion with Juncker
  3. UK to continue talks on EU 'assurances'
  4. EU invests €20m in AI software for self-driving cars
  5. Belgian PM 'not optimistic', urges 'no deal' Brexit preparedness
  6. Romanian president expects no Brexit summit in January
  7. Swedish MPs reject Lofven to lead new government
  8. EU commission's Selmayr 'must resign', MEPs say

Opinion

EU parliament vote strengthens whistleblower protection

We must not undervalue what a massive step the European Parliament vote represents. The hard work has paid off. We can take a moment to celebrate, but the hard work begins again for finalising strong protection for European whistleblowers.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General

Latest News

  1. Fishing quota and no-deal Brexit preparation This WEEK
  2. Kosovo has right to its own army, Germany and US say
  3. EU needs election-meddling stress tests
  4. Russian and US obstruction was 'insult' to climate scientists
  5. EU-27 unimpressed by May, offer little on Brexit
  6. Rutte: New EU sanctions are informal 'Magnitsky law'
  7. EU summit hits asylum fatigue as deadlock continues
  8. Battered May seeks Brexit 'assurances' from EU

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us