Juncker’s call for female commissioners falls on deaf ears


Debate and vote on Jean-Claude Juncker for President of the European Commission, July 2014 [European Parliament/Flickr]

EU member states have until 31 July to present their nominations for commissioner in the next European Commission. Just days before the deadline, it seems that Juncker’s call for more female candidates has fallen on deaf ears. EURACTIV France gives an overview of the issue of gender balance and political parity between men and women in the executive.

Failure to increase the number of women in the European Commission is a recurrent theme. In 2009, the number of women presented for José Manuel Barroso’s second Commission fell compared to the number of women in his first Commission. He emphasised the importance of nominating women to the Commission, and eventually managed to secure nine female commissioners, just a third of the executive.

Gender balance has also become a problem for Jean-Claude Juncker. In an attempt to attract more female candidates, he promised a big portfolio or vice-presidency to big member-states that presented an official female candidate.

During his electoral campaign, Juncker promised that 40% of his Commission would be women.

Despite this, the number of female candidates remains low. So far, just two countries have presented a female official candidate; the Czech Republic and Bulgaria.


Male hegemony

All the presidents of the Commission have been men, from Walter Hallstein in 1958 to Jean-Claude Juncker in 2014.

The first female commissioners were in Jacques Delors’ Commission in 1989; France’s Christiane Scrivener and Greece’s Vasso Papandreou. They held the taxation and customs union portfolio and employment industrial relations and social affairs portfolio respectively.

In 1995, the Santer Commission had 18 commissioners for 15 member states. France, the UK and Germany each had two commissioners. The number of women increased to five; France’s Edith Cresson (research, innovation and science), Italy’s Emma Bonina (consumer policy, fisheries and ECHO), Denmark’s Ritt Bjerregaard (environment and nuclear security), Germany’s Monika Wulf-Mathies (regional policy) and Sweden’s Anita Gradin (immigration, justice and home affairs).

In the Prodi Commission (1999-2004), the number of women increased to 25%, with female commissioners for Spain, Greece, Luxembourg and Sweden.

After the 2004 enlargement of the EU, many Eastern Europe countries wanted to set a good example by sending women to the Commission, including Poland, Latvia and Lithuania.

In Commission Barroso I (2004-2009), there were eight female commissioners. Ten women were part of the Commission following the 2007 enlargement which saw Bulgaria and Romania join the EU. Sweden, Luxembourg, Poland, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Denmark, Austria, Cyprus, the UK and Bulgaria all had female commissioners.

Role models and problem children

Sweden has long been an example for the rest. It has sent three female commissioners since it joined the EU in 1995. Denmark and Luxembourg also stand out with two female commissioners, where big member states like Italy, the UK and Spain have had one female commissioner each.

Some new member states, like Bulgaria, Poland and Lithuania, have already had two women representatives in the Commission.

Although France set the trend in the 1990s by nominated two women in a row, it has failed to have a female commissioner since. It is not likely to present a woman for Juncker’s new Commission, as all bets are on Pierre Moscovici, France’s former minister of the economy.

“We also believe in the necessity for parity, but this does not mean that it should affect the French commissioner,’ said the French presidential palace, adding that twelve countries have yet to nominate a woman to represent them in the European executive body.

France cannot completely exempt itself from this responsibility by shifting it to other countries like Belgium, Portugal and Finland, who have never had female commissioners. “France has still not nominated a woman since 1999,” a source in Brussels pointed out.

Although France has sent two women to the Commission, it is not a huge number considering big member states (France, the UK and Germany) used to be able to nominate two commissioners.

EU Commission not alone

In 2012, the Commission adopted a Women’s Charter, and promised to make “all efforts in order to improve gender balance within the Commission.”

The Commission is not the only European institution struggling to achieve parity. Between 2009 and 2014, only 35% of representatives in the European Parliament were women. For this term, it increased to 37% of MEPs, which is still below par.

Top-jobs in the Parliament also tend to go to men. Just two of the seven chairs of parliamentary committees are held by women for this term. There are five female vice-presidents, compared to nine male vice-presidents.

The President of the Commission is elected by the Parliament by a majority of its members, on a proposal of the European Council acting by qualified majority. The choice of the candidate for the Presidency of the Commission should take account of the results of the elections in the European Parliament.

In consultation with the president-elect, the Council then adopts the list of the other members of the Commission. These people are chosen on the basis of suggestions made by the governments. The Commission is subject, as a body, to a vote of approval of the European Parliament. The College of Commissioners is then formally appointed by the European Council acting by qualified majority.

>>Read our LinksDossier EU Top Jobs: Who is next? and topic page EU Top Jobs

Subscribe to our newsletters