EU Commission split over female quota proposal
AN EFFORT by Europe’s justice commissioner to bring forward binding quotas for female participation on corporate boards has run into serious trouble amid divisions at the top of the EU Commission and legal doubt over the plan.
The commission postponed a vote yesterday on draft laws from commissioner Viviane Reding, a vice-president of the EU’s executive branch.
The force of internal opposition to her initiative has led senior figures to question whether the commission will ever present legislation on binding quotas to member states.
Ms Reding, who championed European legislation to cut mobile phone roaming charges, believes large firms should be compelled to reach a 40 per cent boardroom quota by 2020 or face sanctions.
This would represent a big jump from the current female participation rate of about 13.7 per cent in the EU at large. Early drafts of Ms Reding’s plan suggested the new law would apply to companies with at least 500 employees and annual revenues of €50 million.
But a number of commissioners are known to have reservations about Ms Reding’s plan, among them Irish commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn and Dutch commissioner Neelie Kroes.
Such scepticism is on top of resistance to the move from as many as 10 EU countries. This is significant as draft legislation from the commission is subject to the approval of member states and the European Parliament.
After meeting yesterday in Strasbourg, the commission said it needed more time to finesse its proposal and would return to the matter on November 14th.
With three divergent camps in the commission, it is readily acknowledged in Brussels that Ms Reding will find it difficult to rally enough support to advance a draft directive with binding targets.
Commission chief José Manuel Barroso ranks among those who are ready to accept a non-binding directive. This reflects concern to respect the principle of subsidiarity, which holds that the EU should not take action which would be better taken at national level.
Yet another group within the 27-member college is in favour of the objective of greater female participation but says the commission should do no more than issue a formal recommendation.
“The commission had a good and balanced discussion on the issue of women on non-executive boards,” said a spokesman after the Strasbourg meeting.
“The college expressed a clear position on the need to address the issue of gender balance, which is a fundamental right enshrined in the treaty in terms of non-discrimination.” The commission’s legal experts are believe to have warned in the run-up to the meeting yesterday that binding targets would be illegal.
As Ms Reding insisted last night that she would not give up, the delay in producing the legislation was criticised by Socialist MEPs.
“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,” said Socialist group leader Hannes Swoboda, an Austrian MEP.
EU Parliament committee votes No to Mersch ECB role over gender: Business + Commercial Property