Parliament pushes for gender balance on corporate boards after decade-long deadlock on legislation

The EU wants women to make up at least a third of board members on publicly-listed companies in the bloc by 2027

By Inbar Preiss

Inbar Preiss is a reporter at the Parliament Magazine

19 Mar 2022

European Parliament voted in favour of the women on boards directive on Wednesday. The directive aims to increase gender balance in leadership positions of publicly listed companies. It would ensure that at least a third of all board positions are filled by women by 2027. It would also set a minimum target for 40 per cent of non-executive director posts to be held by women. 

According to statistics published by the European Council, just 30.6 per cent of corporate board members and 8.5 per cent of board chairs in the EU were women, as of October 2021.  

“Binding measures are needed in all EU countries to guarantee that women are equally represented on company boards”, wrote Evelyn Regner (AT, S&D), the directive's co-rapporteur, in the S&D Group’s press release.  

The directive had stalled for a decade in Council. It was 2012 when the Commission adopted the proposal to address women’s underrepresentation in economic leadership positions. The European Parliament adopted its position in November 2013, and since then, the proposal has been deadlocked.

Evelyn Regner has been pushing for women on boards since the beginning. “It was the Parliament that kept the dossier on the agenda”, Regner told Parliament Magazine in an email.  

“We called on the French Presidency to take it out of the drawers and to reassess”, Regner said. A press release published on 16 March on Regner’s web site states that at the start of the French presidency of the European Council, Regner was able to convince French Minister Elisabeth Moreno to revisit the directive at the start of the French Presidency earlier this year. 

According to Regner, “Germany was one of the major countries blocking the directive under Merkel, but with the new coalition led by Olaf Scholz, change was finally in sight.” 

The Party of European Socialists (PES) had urged former German Chancellor Angela Merkel to unblock the directive, as the group’s women’s organisation wrote in 2020. According to the PES, Merkel had been supportive of pushing for gender equality on corporate boards on a national level, but she was opposed to integrating EU-level legislation. Current chancellor Olaf Scholz’ Social Democratic government has now allowed it to pass to the next stages. 

Finally, according to Regner, Social Democrats and Greens convinced their liberal coalition partner to unblock the dossier which led to a majority in Council on 14 March.  

With a joint vote between the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM) and the Committee on Legal Affairs (JURI), the directive passed with 46 votes in favour, 8 against and 2 abstentions. 

Once confirmed by plenary on 23 March, the file will enter trilogues between the European institutions, where the Parliament will defend its position. The rapporteurs celebrated their achievement with a Tweet: 

After ten years of waiting on #EU member states, we are one step closer to gender balance in the boards of EU companies #WomenOnBoards

Happy to start negotiations together with @evelyn_regner 🌹

— Lara Wolters (@larawoltersEU) March 16, 2022

“It was high time that also the Council understood that having more women on boards is an asset to companies direly needed in these difficult times”, said Regner in the email. “Finally, we are taking one step in this direction.”   

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