The problem surrounds the planned composition of the all-powerful Conference Executive Board, which comprises seven MEPs but only one of whom is a woman - Iratxe García Pérez, the leader of the Socialist group in Parliament.
Belgian Renew Europe MEP Guy Verhofstadt, German EPP deputy Manfred Weber, Belgian ID member Gerolf Annemans, German Greens/EFA deputy Daniel Freund, Polish ECR member Zdzisław Krasnodębski and German GUE/NGL MEP Helmut Schloz are the other names put forward by Parliament as the institution’s representatives on the board, or executive committee, that would de facto run the Conference.
The dispute means the start of the Conference, due to finally get going in May, could be delayed yet further.
Roger Casale, Executive Director of New Europeans, the campaign group that has championed the concept of the Conference from the outset, is among those angered by the relative absence of any women on the decision-making board.
On Wednesday, he told this website, “The conversation about the future of Europe is an opportunity to build solidarity, between the different regions of Europe, between generations and also between the sexes. That message is easily undermined by a lack of gender balance in the Conference secretariat.”
“We have already lost half the time available for the Conference. Now we are in danger of losing the voices of the 51.5 percent of the EU's population who are women.”
“The list of nominations from political groups, apart from the S&D group, is all men, which goes against Parliament’s commitment to respecting gender balance and sends the wrong message” S&D Group spokesman
A spokesman for the S&D Group told The Parliament Magazine, “The list of nominations from political groups, apart from the S&D group, is all men, which goes against Parliament’s commitment to respecting gender balance and sends the wrong message.”
The European Parliament last week confirmed who will represent them - and hence the institution - on the board of the Conference on the Future of Europe.
The start of the Conference was hit by both the health pandemic and also inter-institutional wrangling about who should head the body.
It is believed there was a 2019 deal that promised Guy Verhofstadt the Conference leadership, but that plan hit the buffers following opposition from some Member States.
The Conference, though, has now further trouble with the list of names for the secretariat from the Parliament.
The Parliament has said that it is committed to gender balance and Casale, a former UK Labour MP, is among those who fear the latest hiccup could again hold up the start of the Conference.
“The conversation about the future of Europe is an opportunity to build solidarity, between the different regions of Europe, between generations and also between the sexes. That message is easily undermined by a lack of gender balance in the Conference secretariat”
Roger Casale, Executive Director of New Europeans
Casale said, “Whoever is nominated for the joint secretariat for the Conference will all face the challenge of making sure the issues raised by citizens find their way into policymaking.”
“The task of the secretariat is to make sure citizens are not only heard, but also given the opportunity to shape the EU's future priorities, not to impose an agenda of its own.”
He said, “Gender is still an issue and I think this is also holding things up again. The Parliament has put forward seven names only one of which was a woman.”
Greens MEP Daniel Freund told this site, “What’s most important now is that the Conference gets off to a good start. Guy Verhofstadt seems to be very enthusiastic about it. I’m looking forward to working with him on ambitious and much-needed reforms for a federal Europe.”
The Conference is tasked with making proposals to reform the European Union through a series of major public consultations.
The Conference will be led by the presidents of the three main EU institutions: Ursula von der Leyen on behalf of the Commission, David Sassoli for the Parliament and the rotating Council president, representing the Member States.
Below that will be the Executive Board which will oversee the work of the Conference and prepare the Conference plenary meetings, including following up on citizens’ input.
Verhofstadt, Weber and Garcia will be the “full-time” members, with the other four MEPs classed as “observers.”
A European Parliament spokesman said the list of nominations had been endorsed by Sassoli and the leaders of the political groups.