EU to amend female board rule


A European Union proposal to set a 40 per cent target for female membership on company supervisory boards will be amended in an effort to win over EU officials at a key meeting, according to a person familiar with the matter.

EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding will make minor changes to allow governments more flexibility on sanctions against companies that do not meet the target by 2020, according to sources.

Under the draft rules, companies would also have to explain selection procedures if challenged by unsuccessful candidates who claim they were discriminated against.

UK business secretary Vince Cable and ministers from nine other countries wrote to the Brussels-based commission last month to ask for more time to allow national efforts aimed at encouraging female appointments to take effect.

Ms Reding has the support of eight of the 27 European commissioners, including EU economy commissioner Olli Rehn and antitrust chief Joaquin Almunia, who are to discuss the matter at a commission meeting tomorrow, the person with knowledge of the matter said. Seven others are opposed, two of whom will not attend, they said.

It is not clear whether commissioners will vote on the draft, as EC decisions are usually accepted unanimously without a vote, the person added.

Some 13.7 per cent of corporate board seats in the EU are held by women, following a 1.9 per cent increase between October 2010 and January 2012, the European Commission said in a report in March.

Ms Reding, who declined to comment on the amendment, last year asked businesses to appoint more women to company boards.

LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton is among 24 companies that signed her pledge to increase female board members to 30 per cent by 2015, and 40 per cent by 2020.

The EU draft law would apply to all listed companies with more than 250 employees and annual sales of more than €50 million.

Ms Reding earlier suggested there be sanctions against companies that couldn't reach the target, including fines, exclusion from government tenders and a ban on public subsidies, according to sources.

If accepted by the commission, the proposal will need the backing of most of the EU's 27 member states and the European Parliament, which can amend a draft law before it becomes final.

Spain has a 40 per cent target for female representation on large company boards by 2015, and France passed a law last year to impose a 20 per cent quota by 2014, and 40 per cent by 2017, for companies with at least 500 employees and annual sales of €50 million.

Norway, which is not part of the EU, set a quota in 2003 for at least 40 per cent of corporate board seats to be filled by women.


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