By Ruth Marsden - 24th October 2012
“ The basis of the text has not been changed, but the way to arrive at the end result is being looked at in different ways”
EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding’s proposal to impose gender quotas on European companies has been postponed.
The initiative, which aims to get 40 per cent of women in top positions within company boards by 2020, failed to win enough support from fellow commissioners to even go to vote.
It is thought that commission president José Manuel Barroso and six other male commissioners were backing the proposal, which still fell short of the majority needed and will be postponed until next month.
Speaking at a press conference following the weekly commission meeting in Strasbourg on Tuesday, Reding said, "After 100 years of waiting, one or two weeks more won’t make a difference. The main thing is that a strong piece of legislation comes out of the commission."
Reding added, "We have had a very long and intense debate and there is full support in the college that something strong needs to be done in order to enhance the presence of females on corporate boards.
"After speaking with the commission’s legal service I have now introduced a compromise text, which needs to be looked at by the college of commissioners and those commissioners who could not make it to Strasbourg.
"The basis of the text has not been changed," Reding highlighted, "But the way to arrive at the end result is being looked at in different ways."
"We did not speak about majority or minority in the meeting as the commission president made it very clear that at the end of November we will take a decision by consensus or by vote, depending on the mood of the college then.
"I think a debate is very helpful and will help to find the best solution shared by all commissioners."
S&D group leader Hannes Swoboda was swift to comment saying, "It would be very sad and regrettable if the European commission were unable to present a strong proposal on promoting gender balance in the senior management of companies because of pressure from business and prejudice."
A vice-president of parliament’s S&D group Corina Cretu and S&D spokeswoman Britta Thomsen added, "In the current financial and economic context, we have to make full use of our workforce and their skills.
"Unfortunately, the voluntary scheme to improve gender balance among top management suggested by Viviane Reding has failed, with only 24 companies willing to commit to the agreement. More pressure is certainly necessary.
"Gender equality is vital for economic growth, competitiveness, employment rates and companies’ financial performance.
"We are asking the commission to stick to an ambitious law and assuring them they can count on the full support of the Socialists and Democrats in the European parliament."
President of PES Women Zita Gurmai criticised the justice commissioner’s approach saying, "Reding’s big mistake was making a personal crusade out of such a weak proposal.
"Her inability to prioritise the success of the policy over personal political ambition will have serious consequences.
"The failure of this proposal represents a major setback for all women who have the skills and desire to make a hugely positive impact on the European corporate culture."
The Hungarian MEP added, "It is difficult to see how Ms Reding can hope to build consensus within a month, without further weakening the proposal. Let’s hope she can learn from her own mistakes."
Elsewhere, UK MEP Marina Yannakoudakis said, "It is clear that quotas imposed by the EU are unwanted and unworkable."
The ECR deputy, who has campaigned continuously against the idea of compulsory quotas, added, "I hope commissioner Reding will take the hint. Member states don’t want quotas, the commission doesn’t want quotas and I know that many members of the European parliament don’t want quotas. Let’s put a stop to this quota nonsense once and for all and talk about the real issue of supporting diversity in business."
Meanwhile, the European Women’s Lobby communications and media officer Leanda Barrington-Leach, said, "We understand that a number of fellow commissioners are blocking Reding’s proposal. In doing so they are undermining the credibility of the European commission as guardian of the treaties.
"The EU clearly has competence in this field. We recall that it is indeed the duty of the EU to promote equality between women and men. Already, the previous draft texts were excessively weak, applying only to non-executive positions on boards of the largest publicly-quoted companies, and leaving the question of sanctions up to the discretion of the member states. How much weaker can it possibly get?"