European & International News

European Parliament fails the gender test

[European Voice, Brussels, 19 January 2012] Two years ago, when European commissioners were being selected, the European Parliament campaigned against the early list of nominees. There were too few women, they complained. José Manuel Barroso, the
European Commission’s president, was grateful for the Parliament’s pressure and urged member states to nominate more women. They did, and the gender balance of the college of Commissioners was tilted away from a complete disgrace towards being merely embarrassing: nine out of 27.

The Parliament, always keen to upbraid the Commission and
the national governments, and to lay claim to represent ordinary
Europeans, this week voted on its own political and institutional
leadership: the president and vice-presidents, quaestors and
committee chairs.

So is its own leadership more representative of Europe’s population
than the EU’s unelected commissioners? Apparently not.

The president of the Parliament is, once again, a man. You
would have to go back to 1999-2002 (Nicole Fontaine) to find a
woman president, and there has been only one other since MEPs
were first directly elected in 1979 (Simone Veil).

Of the 14 vice-presidents, only three are women, down from six
in the first half of this parliamentary term. That is shameful.
Note that the vice-presidents substitute for the president in
chairing plenary sessions of the Parliament. The chances of
seeing a woman presiding (albeit temporarily) over Parliament
are less in 2012 than they were in 2011.

Among the nine leaders of political groups, only one is a woman
– Rebecca Harms, co-leader of the Greens, with Daniel Cohn-
Bendit. The upshot is that in the Conference of Presidents, the
political leadership of the Parliament, there is just one woman. In
the bureau, which takes charge of the internal management of the
Parliament, there are just three women among the 15 voting
members – the president and vice-presidents. In the college of
quaestors, two of the five are women.

These figures do not reflect the overall gender (im)balance in
the Parliament: 235 of the 754 MEPs are women. Nor can the
situation be explained simply by the vicissitudes of small
numbers, given that there were significantly more women in the
bureau in the first half of the parliamentary term.

But the fundamental reason why women are underrepresented
is that the leaderships of the Parliament’s political
groups failed to put enough women up for posts.

To what can the Parliament point in mitigation? It can highlight
the one exception: the number of women who will chair
committees. There are 22 committees and sub-committees, and
women will lead nine of them. These are big, important roles.
But it does not take a feminist to see a striking difference
between these posts and the other categories of posts. The
committees are the boiler-house of the Parliament. The work is
hard but carries less visibility.

The Parliament should recognise that for the next two-and-ahalf
years, it will have an image problem, because men will
occupy the visible posts, while the senior female MEPs will be
concentrated in the more thankless positions.

For instance, if the Commission does come up with proposals
to increase the proportion of women on the boards of European
companies, will the Parliament be in any position to respond?
Citizens might be tempted to take its response with a pinch of
salt and scepticism. It will be a case of “do as I say, not as I do”.

The Parliament’s groups should ask themselves some searching
questions. Is the EPP, the biggest group and therefore the biggest
taker of the top jobs, content to convey an image of an
unreconstructed, outdated party, in which women are kept out of
the top jobs? Is Guy Verhofstadt, the leader of ALDE, whose
record in working with women is pretty abysmal, content with the
position of women in his group? Are the socialists and other
groups of the left going to leave it to the Greens to give a place to
women? And is there a culture in the Parliament that produced
this regrettable outcome?

Source: European Voice 19 January 2012

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