Opinion: The Member States should each propose one female and one male candidate for the next European Commission

Simone Veil’s historic address to the European Parliament on the subject of gender equality last week, thirty years after her election as the first President of the directly elected European Parliament prompted us to observe that the current college of European Commissioners (where only a third of whom are female) does not exactly shine in terms of gender balance. We believe that a further step is needed, drawing on the model of the European Court of Human Rights.

Judges at this court are elected from a shortlist of three candidates put forward by governments. Only lists containing at least one candidate from the under-represented gender on the court (currently women) will be considered. Similar principles were incorporated in the law of gender equality adopted by Denmark in 2006 – vacancies on public boards and committees will simply remain open until at least one female candidate is included in the shortlist. We have also seen comparable initiatives concerning board diversity in Norway (2003) and Sweden.

We are urging EU Member States to adopt a similar principle when proposing candidates for the next European Commission. No Member State can claim to have a single woman in its country who would not be qualified for the post of European Commissioner. In fact, in many cases, the opposite is probably true – it is a well-known fact that women are often not nominated for such posts because they cannot (or choose not) to take advantage of the ‘old boys’ network’.

More than fifty years after the entry into force of the Treaty of Rome, which already enshrined the principle of gender equality, it can still be a shock to see how few women appear on the ‘family photo’ of Commissioners. We would like to point out that this call for action is not only addressed to women. It is in all our interests that women are properly represented in politics. A recent Eurobarometer poll found that 77% of European citizens wanted to see more women in decision-making. This is in fact about democratic representation, something we can all agree is extremely important – or do we?

* Diana Wallis MEP is Vice-President of the European Parliament;
* Anneli Jäätteenmäki MEP is Vice-Chairwoman of Constitutional Affairs Committee;
* Karin Riis-Jørgensen MEP is Vice-President of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Group

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This entry was posted in Europe / International and Op-eds.


  • Richard Whelan 19th Mar '09 - 5:34pm

    I agree. It is important to elect the best person on merit irrespective of their gender. As a disabled person I would not want to be selected as a candidate because I am disabled but because I am the best candidate for the job. The same should apply to gender.

  • David Allen 19th Mar '09 - 6:34pm

    It is important to choose the best person on merit whenever there is a specific job to be done. The place for gender equality in politics should be in the selection of public representatives – MPs, MEPs and councillors.

    Why not, for example, have two parallel elections for male and female MPs? On the current first-past-the-post system, that would mean having 325 double-size constituencies, in each of which all electors can vote for one male MP and also (in a separate election at the same time) for one female MP. This balanced Parliament would then be the basis of a government to be selected on merit, with no gender quotas for Ministers. The same principles could equally be applied with an STV based system.

  • Gender Quotas are something that have come up in NUS Wales recently, so the matter has been on my mind a lot the last few weeks. I’d be in that 77% of people wanting more women involved in decision making, but taking that to mean I want a quota system is very wrong. Enforcing election of people based on gender is going down a bad road.

  • What about disabled people, LGBT, ethnicity? Liberals don’t believe in group rights, but individual rights. I believe in gender equality- and Simone Weil is inspiring- but tokenism is not the way to achieve it.

  • 10 of the current 27 Commissioners are women, I think that is a somewhat better gender balance than the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Party….

    “it is a well-known fact that women are often not nominated for such posts because they cannot (or choose not) to take advantage of the ‘old boys’ network’.”

    I think this is unlikely Diana. The problem is more that the position of Commissioner has tended to be handed out as a reward for long-service to politicians who have otherwise failed in some way.

    Given general historic gender inequality in Parliaments it is no surprise there are more long-serving failed men in the Commission than women.

    At an MEP level gender balance is improving. We do though have a problem with the age profile of MEPs, particularly in this party.

    Like the Commission, and due to the list system, being an MEP seems to have become a bit of a career option for people who didn’t quite make it in other ways but have good name recognition within their own parties.

    Perhaps you would support then, following the internal vote, opening the ordering of our party lists to public primaries so our MEPs are more likely to reflect who the public regard as deserving and interesting? This would no doubt be good for both gender and age balance?

  • Bruce Wilson 20th Mar '09 - 5:03pm

    No to quota systems. Yes to equality. Quota systems are an extension of political correctness. I dislike political correctness. It hides any fundamental problems and promotes special interest groups. Problems should be thrashed out, if they exist. Could you supply evidence of this ‘old boys’ network’?

  • Of course, this is also discriminating against the intersexed and genderqueer, who would not want to be considered either male or female – does this mean that they would be ineligible to stand for the European Commission?

  • David Allen 22nd Mar '09 - 2:44pm

    Dave Page, hard cases make bad law. Just ask any such candidate to choose for themselves in which of the two candidate pools they would wish to be considered eligible. Then frig around a bit longer framing the rules so as to stop the likes of Bernard Manning declaring themselves female in order to make mock. Then get on with it, if you think it’s appropriate. Don’t just use silly excuses to dodge away from the idea.

    As I said earlier, in my view it is appropriate for public representatives (e.g. MPs), but not for specified jobs (e.g. Ministers).

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