22nd Oct 2016

EU anti-sexism law kicked into November

  • Reding - a vote could have killed the bill (Photo: European Community, 2006)

Disagreement among top officials and legal worries have come close to killing a high-profile EU gender quota law.

The latest version of the bill - drafted by justice commissioner Vivianne Reding - is to force publicly-listed EU firms to have at least 40 percent of women in non-executive posts on their boards by 2020.

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It is also more "subsidiarity-friendly" than earlier drafts - it gives more leeway for national authorities on implementation.

But when Reding presented her paper to the college of commissioners in Strasbourg on Tuesday (23 October), her boss, Jose Manuel Barroso, saw enough opposition around the table to decline calling a simple majority vote.

If the vote had said No the law would have gone in the bin.

Instead, commissioners will hold fresh talks on the text on 14 November after their legal services have had a chance to pore over details.

Reding tweeted on Tuesday that the main finance-sector commissioners - Barroso himself, Joaquin Almunia, Laszlo Andor, Michel Barnier, Andris Piebalgs, Olli Rehn and Antonio Tajani - back "an ambitious directive."

The November date might also help because some of her allies did not make it to Strasbourg this week.

Catherine Ashton was in Lebanon and Almunia got stuck in an airport. Maria Damanaki, Kristalina Georgieva, Siim Kallas and Connie Hedegaard were also absent.

"We [feminists] are fighting now for 100 years - so, one or two weeks more, what difference does that make? For me, what's important is that a strong piece of legislation comes out of the commission," Reding told press.

In what amounts to a tough day on gender rights, MEPs in Strasbourg on Tuesday also roasted EU Council Herman Van Rompuy over the European Central bank (ECB).

EU leaders are preparing to appoint Yves Mersch, a Luxembourger, to the ECB's male-only board despite a plea by MEPs on the economic affairs committee not to do so.

Van Rompuy admitted there is "blatant under-representation" of women in the financial sector in Europe. He also said he "made a strong appeal" at last week's summit for EU countries to put forward more female candidates for the ECB in future.

But he urged parliament not to vote against Mersch in plenary on Thursday despite the fact his appointment will see the ECB board stay as a male-only club until 2018.

Going back to Reding's quotas, EU institutions admit they do not yet practice what they preach.

Reding noted there are 27 percent women in senior management posts in the commission and 33 percent in the college of commissioners. The ECB has about 40 percent female staff overall. But less than 20 percent of its top 80-or-so directors are women.

An ECB contact told EUobserver it mostly employs economists, IT specialists and lawyers - professions still dominated by men.

"It's still a problem for the generation which is maturing to executive level these days. But I don't think it will be a problem for the next generation," the source said.

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