Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission’s President-designate, has urged national governments to appoint more women in his new team of commissioners, and promised to reward those that do so with a big portfolio or vice-presidency.
The former Luxembourg Prime Minister was nominated by EU heads of state on 27 June to become the next President of the European Commission, despite staunch opposition from Britain.
He will begin negotiations with governments on the distribution of portfolios after the European Parliament confirms him in a vote on Tuesday (15 July).
“He is very worried about the fact that, of all the names circulating, almost all of them are men,” a source close to Juncker told EURACTIV. “He has been expressing his concern systematically in all talks with heads of state or government over the past weeks.”
So far, only a handful of governments have announced their nominees to take the Brussels post, and all are men. Amongst them are Jyrki Katainen (Finland), Maroš Šefcovic (Slovakia), Günther Oettinger (Germany), Radoslaw Sikorski (Poland) and Johannes Hahn (Austria). Britain is most likely to nominate Andrew Lansley, EURACTIV reported earlier, and most nominees expected from other countries also are men.
A few women’s names are circulating but none are confirmed. The Italian foreign affairs minister, Federica Mogherini, could move to Brussels while the outgoing Bulgarian Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva is expected to renew her mandate. Belgium might nominate the centre-right MEP Marianne Thyssen, and Greece eyeballs former foreign minister Dora Bakoyannis.
Outside the Commission, the current Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt is tipped as future President of the European Council to replace Herman Van Rompuy.
But unless a significant number of other governments put forward women, the next College of Commissioners is likely to be a man’s world.
“Juncker does not believe a Commission with only two or three women would be credible or legitimate,” the source said.
Juncker is now luring national governments to opt for women nominees. “Governments who are willing to propose qualified female Commissioners can expect to be rewarded with important portfolios and/or Vice-Presidents,” according to the source.
Gender disparity could threaten Parliament’s confirmation
Formally, the full list of Commissioners will be adopted by the EU heads of state, in consultation with the new president of the EU executive. Next Wednesday (16 July), they will gather for the first time to discuss the appointments at an EU summit in Brussels. Juncker has asked them to put forward options, including names and their portfolios, in order to complete the puzzle.
Commissioners will then appear at individual hearings before the European Parliament committees in September before the full Parliament holds a vote to approve or reject the new team as a whole.
Juncker toured the EU Parliament over the past two days, holding meetings with all parliamentary groups to discuss his programme and build a majority for his own election vote.
Speaking to the socialist faction in the EU Parliament on Tuesday (8 July), he repeated his call for gender balance, saying he “will fight for a strong representation of women in the Commission”.
“It is difficult to imagine that the Parliament would accept a Commission with fewer female Commissioners than the current one,” Juncker’s spokesperson told EURACTIV on Wednesday (9 July). The last EU Commission included only nine women out of 28 Commissioners.
In Parliament, MEPs are also urging national governments to ensure gender balance in the new Commission.
“The president supports Juncker in his endeavours to increase the number [of female commissioners]. It is certainly insufficient. The EU is discussing quota for female representation in corporate boards or bodies; it should ensure its own parity, too,” said the spokesperson of Martin Schulz, the EU Parliament president.
The Parliament itself has an overall gender balance of 37% female MEPs and 63% male MEPs. This is just slightly better than the last EU Parliament (35% women versus 65% men).
>> See our infographic: ‘Who is who in the European Parliament’
* This article was updated on 10/7/2014, 14:30.