The European Commission's new five-year strategy for gender equality in the EU – which keeps company board quotas on the agenda – has been widely welcomed, but some have criticised it for a lack of concrete measures.
The 2010-2015 strategy, unveiled on Tuesday (21 September), aims to translate the principles of the Commission's Women's Charter into specific measures to boost female potential and contribute to the EU's wider economic and social goals.
The plan is based around five key priorities: getting more women into the job market, equality in senior positions, promoting female entrepreneurship, equal pay (women earn around 18% less than men across the EU on average) and tackling gender violence.
An annual 'Gender Equality Dialogue' will assess the implementation of the strategy, comprising stakeholders from the EU institutions, European social partners and civil society.
''Europe has led the world by example in terms of gender equality by including the principle of equal pay for equal work into the Treaty of Rome in 1957," said EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding. "We can do this again today regarding the participation of women in decision-making and the fight against gender-based violence."
However, some have expressed doubt about the new strategy, questioning whether it will be fully implemented and result in concrete action.
The European Women's Lobby (EWL), the umbrella organisation of women's associations across the EU, voiced concern about absence of new legislation and binding measures and wants the Commission to move beyond rhetoric.
''A political commitment for progress on behalf of the Commission is of course very welcome; at the same time, we must move beyond rhetoric on this issue. First of all, member states need to implement the legislation already in place, and the Commission needs to monitor this process and take legal action when countries are in violation of their obligations,'' said EWL Secretary-General Myria Vassiliadou.
Bulgarian MEP Antonyia Parvanova of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) also criticised the plan for being heavy on rhetoric but somewhat light on action.
''While I notice plenty of vocabulary such as 'promoting', 'welcoming', 'reporting' and 'considering', I am concerned that there is not enough concrete action being proposed,'' she stated.
German MEP Franziska Brantner (Greens/EFA) called on the EU to live by its own rules, referring to the recent male-heavy ambassadorial appointments for the External Action Service by EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton.
''Reding and the Commission should practice what they preach. Quotas for company boards are right, but it is strange that the EU sets up a foreign service with 28 new ambassadorial posts and only six are occupied by women. Perhaps Viviane Reding should explain to her colleague Ashton what modern institutions and businesses look like,'' stated the MEP.
Reding eyeing company board quotas
Viviane Reding is still considering the establishment of gender quotas on company boards as part of the strategy, she stated on Tuesday (21 September).
In July, EURACTIV reported that Reding was not ruling out the introduction of EU legislation to tackle gender imbalances in decision-making in the private sector. Currently, just 10% of company board members are women.
The commissioner will now decide on the issue after meeting European business chiefs next year. ''I have not been an advocate of quotas for women in senior business posts in the past, but given the lack of progress in this area, we might in the future have to consider taking initiatives at the European level,'' she stated.
''I plan to meet with the chief executives of major publicly listed European companies in spring 2011 to discuss the situation and the scope for determined self-regulation. Depending on the outcome of this dialogue with industry, I will consider whether further initiatives will be necessary in 2012,'' she added.