The informal start of the Conference on the Future of Europe (CoFoE) has been overshadowed by fresh criticism of its perceived lack of gender balance.
Hubner’s comments come on the day the Conference finally got started, with the first meeting of the board on Wednesday.
The Conference itself, delayed due to the pandemic and inter-institutional squabbling about its leadership, will not officially be launched until May.
The fact that only one member of Parliament’s seven MEP representatives on the Executive Board is a woman - S&D leader Iratxe García Pérez - has incensed many who say it is ironic given the prominence the EU gives to gender equality.
Speaking to this website, Hubner said, “I am actually not surprised that we ended up with this share of women. Gender mainstreaming has always been rather lip service here. Women go to other jobs and are appreciated in other places and guess who is replacing them? Men.”
“There is no political will to select or elect women as leaders. It saddens me because there are so many absolutely excellent young women in Parliament.”
“But it will take them 20 years and good luck to make themselves accepted as leaders, as deserving to represent us in such processes like this, the Conference on the EU’s future - an inclusive debate about the future for Europe.”
“I can’t believe that the other political groups could not find a female leader to represent them. But this is always the problem with equality - that words are usually not followed by deeds and that women still have a long way to go to break the glass ceiling” Iratxe García Pérez, S&D leader
“Actually, it is a shame that we ended up with this balance but somehow I am not surprised.”
Hubner, an EPP member, added, “I feel indignant on behalf of many women. This is like a modern version of the old myth about the ‘kidnapping of Europe’ but, this time, by a bunch of males.”
“But this is far too serious to joke about. The promise of CoFoE was representation and inclusivity on all accounts. This promise has been broken even before we left the starting block. It is not an auspicious beginning and I say this with real sadness.”
Similar criticism about the composition of the Executive Board comes from García Pérez, who said, “I can’t believe that the other political groups could not find a female leader to represent them.”
She pointed out that it was Parliament that insisted on gender equality in the Conference’s leadership.
“But this is always the problem with equality - that words are usually not followed by deeds and that women still have a long way to go to break the glass ceiling.”
The damning criticism from two of Parliament’s most senior MEPs comes as the work on the CoFoE started with the constitutive meeting on Wednesday.
“I am actually not surprised that we ended up with this share of women. Gender mainstreaming has always been rather lip service here. Women go to other jobs and are appreciated in other places and guess who is replacing them? Men” Danuta Hubner, EPP
A Parliament spokesman said that the Executive Board is composed of representatives from the three institutions (European Parliament, Council and Commission) “on an equal footing.”
The Board, co-chaired by Liberal Guy Verhofstadt, will oversee the work, process and organisation of the Conference.
At this first meeting, the Board, said the spokesman, agreed on a series of “essential items” needed to get the Conference started, taking the first steps “to ensure that citizens can soon start to contribute to the Conference without delay.”
It also discussed the possibility of a “formal event” on 9 May to mark its official launch in Strasbourg. This, though, will depend on the public health conditions and any restrictions imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Speaking on Wednesday, Portuguese Secretary of State for EU Affairs Ana Paula Zacarias, said, “The Conference should be an inclusive platform bringing together different voices, engaging on a wide reflection and debate on the challenges Europe is facing and its long-term future. Putting citizens at the centre of European policies.”
Verhofstadt said, “In transformative times, it is up to citizens to decide what they expect from the EU and how to make that happen. It’s their Europe, and their future, so it’s their Conference. Our job is to make sure the Conference gains public momentum, and then, to draw an agenda from it to shape Europe’s future together.”
Further comment came from Commission Vice-President for Democracy and Demography Dubravka Šuica who said, “The Conference will enable citizens from every corner of the EU, and from all backgrounds, to share their ideas, hopes and dreams in shaping their Union’s future. This is a unique and historic moment for citizen engagement in the European Union.”
Representatives from COSAC, the Committee of the Regions, the European Economic and Social Committee and social partners were also invited as observers to the meeting.
The Board will meet again on 7 April in Parliament.