Tuesday, October 23, 2012
EU scales back board gender quota plan - Commission sources
By Claire Davenport
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - A European Union proposal to force companies to allot 40 percent of board seats to women by 2020 has been diluted at the last minute, after lawyers said strict quotas were unlawful under EU treaties, a Commission official said on Tuesday.
Men represent over 85 percent of all executive posts in the European Union, an imbalance some prominent women in EU institutions are trying to correct, but their efforts have run into widespread opposition.
Viviane Reding, the EU commissioner for justice and fundamental rights, has been struggling to overcome obstacles to her draft proposal for binding gender quotas, and had to scale back the plan after lawyers in the Commission said its main tenet was unlawful.
Reding had wanted to push a binding 40 percent quota for women on company boards, enforced with sanctions. And earlier drafts of her proposal showed that she wanted a quota to be enforced by 2020.
But officials say that has now been diluted in the proposal, which was still being drafted ahead of a vote by the 27 EU commissioners later on Tuesday afternoon.
The EU's legal service said countries cannot be obliged to reach the 40 percent female quota, but can ensure that more is done to address gender bias on boards.
Previous drafts outlined hefty sanctions for companies which were not meeting the quota. In a recent version the size of such sanctions has been left to member states to decide.
Supporters of Reding's plans say men could also benefit from the corporate gender push.
If a man who is out of work on paternity leave for a year is up against a woman in a job interview who had been in work for a year, then the man could get priority, one official said.
Many of the EU's 27 member countries have already said they will not support Reding's proposal, and their opposition has also contributed to the softening of her position.
While some other female commissioners say they agree with the proposal's objective, some say its unwieldiness and subsequent unpopularity could kill off much-needed debate on gender inequality.
Five of the commission's nine female commissioners are against the proposal a commission official said while several of the male commissioners, including Finland's Olli Rehn and Michel Barnier of France, are in favour.
Dutch commissioner Neelie Kroes is set to vote against it. Her career has spanned several company board positions and two tenures as a commissioner.
But despite the difficulties Reding's proposal faces, the gender debate has been high on the agenda of other EU institutions.
Members of the European Parliament economics committee on Monday rejected the appointment of Luxembourg's Yves Mersch to the ECB Executive Board, because no women had been considered for the post. While Mersch is still expected to get the job, members of the Parliament believe the stand has put the issue under the spotlight.