European & International News

Belgium and the Netherlands vote on non-binding quotas

[Brussels, 01 June 2011] Only one week after the European Parliament’s Women’s Rights Committee voted in favour of proposals to impose quotas, allowing competent women more equal access to top jobs, some worrying news has emerged from two EU Member States. MEPs may be sympathetic to quotas but national governments are still afraid to back proposals for binding measures.

Belgium

Such is the case in Belgium, where the debate has been on the agenda this week. The Trade Law Commission at the Chamber of Representatives of the Belgian Parliament voted yesterday a disappointing new text on quota for women on board of directors of public listed and state owned companies.

The new text follows sharp criticism expressed by the State Council earlier this month. At the beginning of March the same committee voted a previous proposal stating that if companies do not comply with the quota their decisions would be declared void (will be annulled). This proposal was never voted in the plenary since its opponents asked for the advice of the State Council. In the new version, considering the recommendations of the State Council, the proposal is not only non-binding but the important clause to sanction companies by annulling their decisions in case of non-compliance has been removed. Instead, members sitting on boards where less than a third of women are represented will be sanctioned by reducing the benefits flowing from their position. Moreover, an evaluation and revision of the amendment is not planned before 12 years.

The Netherlands

Meanwhile, the Netherlands has voted an equally disappointing non-binding proposal for raising the quota for women on boards of companies from 8 to 30 per cent by 2016. This proposal is not a legal “quota” but a target that even in case of non-compliance will not imply any sanctions on companies.

The need for binding measures

Legally-binding quotas and sanctions have elsewhere proven to be efficient. Norway is the best known example where companies can even be dissolved if women account for less than 40 per cent of board members. Interestingly, previous non-binding legislation in Norway failed miserably to bring about effective results, yet the binding measures have ensured rapid change in that country.

Promoting women’s equal rights and gender equality, including in the field of decision-making and at all levels, is compulsory for all EU Member States as per their EU and international legal commitments. It is time they, and the EU, take these seriously.

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