‘Gender balance’ crucial to success of new EU commission

Ana-Claudia Tapardel warns against the commission making a return to an old gentlemen’s club.

By Ana-Claudia Tapardel

09 Sep 2014

In the run-up to the allocation of the post of European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker made a political promise to have at least 40 per cent female representation among commissioners if elected. He reaffirmed his commitment to this goal after being confirmed as president by the European parliament on July 15.

Juncker also received the support of the outgoing female commissioners who, worrying that the next commission could be short of women, launched a campaign calling for at least 10 (or more) women commissioners in the next EU executive. The campaign received the enthusiastic support of both male and female MEPs, whose picture, displaying 10 fingers with the caption #tenormore, created waves on social media. The parliament has also called on member states to ensure more women are nominated for the job, making it clear that a commission without strong female representation will not be accepted by our house.

“In spite of the legislative progress on gender equality over the past 40 years, for various reasons, there are still substantially fewer women in political leadership and decision making positions”

Why do we ask for 10 or more female commissioners? In spite of the legislative progress on gender equality over the past 40 years, for various reasons, there are still substantially fewer women in political leadership and decision making positions. This is true for both the national and the European levels of governance. According to commission data, women represent only 28 per cent of members of national parliaments and just 27 per cent of senior ministers in the EU 28. In the EU institutions, women’s share of seats in the parliament is currently 37 per cent. Their proportion of the outgoing college of commissioners was 32 per cent. Furthermore, in 2012, the commission adopted a women’s charter, promising to take “all efforts in order to improve gender balance within the commission”. Now is the time for actions to speak lauder than words.

Perhaps the most compelling reason for more female commissioners concerns the fact that there are plenty of qualified, educated and experienced female politicians in EU member states who could do a great job if given the opportunity. As a female politician, I am convinced in the ability of women to be good commissioners. Just look at Neelie Kroes, Catherine Ashton and Kristalina Georgieva, to name a few, who are all respected politicians for their achievements as European commissioners.

Taking my country Romania as an example, today, Victor Ponta’s government includes five female ministers. That is much in contrast to the previous cabinets formed by rightwing MPs, which included few women. I would even go one step further and say that in our modern, emancipated society it should be normal to have an increase in the number of women holding positions of leadership – in national, European and international institutions. Fewer women represented at these levels cannot be considered acceptable. Unfortunately, too few member states have put forward women candidates for commissioners. Returning to the case of Romania, prime minister Victor Ponta sent a very important signal by proposing a woman for commissioner. He also stressed the need for gender balance in the next European executive.

If more states would have focused on this necessity and rightful request of the European parliament, we probably wouldn’t have found ourselves in front of a possible imbalance. To conclude, Juncker can take comfort in the fact that parliament will strongly support his efforts to reach greater gender balance in his next commission. However, he should also be prepared to face difficulties if he fails to achieve this target.

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