MEPs back quotas for corporate boards, says EP committee chair
By Brian Beary in Washington | Tuesday 10 April 2012
With Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding considering tabling a proposal to require a minimal percentage female representation on corporate boards, the chair of the European Parliament’s Committee on Women’s Rights (FEMM) has told
Europolitics that a majority of MEPs supported quotas on boards. The EUL, Greens, ALDE and S&D groups were “generally” in favour, with the EPP and ECR mostly against, said Mikael Gustaffson (EUL-NGL, Sweden), on 4 April. “It is not because we want to do this but because nothing has happened in recent years to improve the situation. We have been waiting for so long. Right now, we have an informal male quota where men elect men,” he said. Gustaffson was speaking in Washington DC at the end of a four-day trip to the US where he and three other MEPs from the FEMM committee met with officials from the US administration, the United Nations and the World Bank, and with trade union representatives and NGOs.
Gustaffson admitted that the US officials he spoke with were “not so much in favour” of quotas and that the issue was “not on their agenda”. The US instead advocated “a system of carrots rather than sticks,” such as providing positive role models for women, encouraging girls in school and breaking down gender stereotypes. However, “they all wanted to learn more from us about what the EU was doing because we have come so far.” Government-mandated quotas of any form - be they gender or race-based - tend to be anathema in the US as many view them as contrary to a merit-based system that stresses equal opportunity over equality of outcome. In Europe, by contrast, Commissioner Reding, on 5 March, launched a public consultation to address to problem of chronically low female representation on corporate boards, with only 3% of chief executives in the largest European firms being women at present. Asked if he would back a legislative proposal from Reding to introduce gender quotas on boards, Gustaffson said “speaking as the Women’s Rights Committee chair I would say ‘yes’,” but he noted that his political group, the European United Left, was “less keen” on EU-imposed quotas.
While in New York, the MEPs met Margot Wallström, the former commissioner who is now the UN’s special representative on sexual violence in conflict and is working to stop the use of rape as a tactic of war. In Washington, Gustaffson noted that his delegation learned how the World Bank had achieved a 50-50 gender balance for top-tier staff and was starting to take into account violence against women in their loans adjudication process. Gustaffson is the first male to serve as chair of Parliament’s FEMM committee. Asked about his motivation for this post, he said: “For me gender equality is not a women’s issue, it is about democracy and human rights. I am a feminist in the sense that I believe men are advantaged by the structure of society and I would like to change that structure”.