The European Parliament yesterday (13 March) backed the European Commission’s pledge to create binding rules to increase the number of women in top jobs, if member states have not voluntarily taken action to redress gender imbalance in the workplace.
Adopting a resolution drafted by Liberal Dutch MEP Sophia in't Veld, the Parliament reiterated its call for new laws introducing quotas to boost female representation on corporate boards, should national measures fail to achieve any satisfying result.
“Quotas are a necessary evil, because voluntary measures have got us nowhere,” Sophia in't Veld. “It is now time to act.”
The vote was 361 votes in favour, 268 against with 70 abstentions.
To boost the numbers of women in executive positions in EU companies, the resolution calls on the European Commission to table a legislative proposal to introduce quotas to step up corporate board quotas to 30% by 2015 and 40% by 2020.
EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding on 5 March kicked off a three-month debate that could result in more decisive legislative action, a year after she called on companies to take voluntary steps to increase the number of women on boards to 30% by 2015 and 40% by 2020.
The EU executive found in a report that only limited progress towards increasing the number of women on company boards has been achieved one year after Reding called for credible self-regulatory measures.
Just 13.7% of board members at Europe's top firms are women, up from 11.8% in 2010. However, it would still take more than 40 years to reach a significant gender balance (at least 40% of both sexes) at this rate.
Speaking to MEPs, Reding said that proposals to may be put forward later this year. Parliament last called for such mandatory measures in a July 2011 resolution.
German MEP Silvana Koch-Mehrin told EURACTIV that “even if quota as an instrument are controversial, the outcome is convincing. Especially in Germany it is high time for measures to improve gender balance in company boards."
Belgium, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain have started to address the situation by adopting legislation that introduces gender quotas for company boards. Denmark, Finland, Greece, Austria and Slovenia have adopted rules on gender balance for the boards of state-owned companies.
Tackle pay gap and boost women in politics
MEPs also called for an EU equal pay target to reduce the gender pay gap by 10% in each member state and urged EU countries to tackle equal representation in politics, by adopting zipped lists or electoral quotas.
Electoral quotas have been introduced in France, Spain, Belgium, Slovenia, Portugal and Poland, and should therefore be considered as an option, notes the in't Veld resolution.
To ensure gender parity in political decision-making, including electoral lists and top EU positions, binding measures and sanctions are needed at national and EU level, says a second resolution, drafted by Finnish centre-right MEP Sirpa Pietikäinen.
While 35% of MEPs are now women, average female representation across the EU's national parliaments remains unchanged at 24%. Just 23% of ministers are women.
To improve the gender balance within the EU institutions, MEPs urge national also governments to propose, after the 2014 European elections, a woman and a man as their candidates for European Commissioner.