Female leadership is a must, not an option

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Launch of the EU Women Caucus with MEP Viviane Reding and Silvana Koch-Mehrin. [Courtesy of Women in Parliaments/Flickr]

To stay competitive on a global scale, the European Union needs to mobilize the untapped potential and talent of women in all spheres, write a number of women leaders, after launching the EU Women Caucus on 2 December, 2014.

The signatories of this op-ed are: Margrethe Vestager, European Commissioner for Competition, Board Member of the EU Women Caucus, Stefano Sannino, Permanent Representative of Italy to the European Union, Iraxte García Perez, Chair FEMM, MEP, Co-Chair of the EU Women Caucus, Helga Stevens, Vice Chair ECR, MEP, Co-Chair of the EU Women Caucus, Sophie in t’Veld, Vice Chair ALDE, MEP, Co-Chair of the EU Women Caucus, Lara Comi, Vice Chair EPP, MEP, Co-Chair of the EU Women Caucus,  Maria Joao Rodrigues, Vice Chair S&D, Co-Chair of the EU Women Caucus, Dimitrios Papadimoulis, Vice-President of the European Parliament, Co-Chair of the EU Women Caucus.

When a new European Commission has to be appointed, and the European Parliament faces the electorate at the ballot box, the quest for female leaders to achieve a fairer representation within the European institutions is placed high on the agenda.

The problem has been how to keep it there once the elections are over and the new Commission is in place.

It is in response to this that the EU Women Caucus was launched on Tuesday (2 December). This is a unique cross-party and inter-institutional platform for discussion between leading women in the European Parliament, the European Commission, the Council of the European Union, and the representations of the EU Member States to the European Union.

While being resolutely informal in its role, the EU Women Caucus is a means of building a network between women in positions of influence enabling them to keep the issue of the quest for female leaders as high on the agenda as it is during election periods.

2014 is a key time for the creation of such a platform. As an election year, it has offered a chance to put the EU’s commitment to gender equality to the test. While managing to avoid scoring the lowest grade, the results are far from impressive. After the EU elections in May, just 37% of the Members of the European Parliament are women; there are also only nine women among the 28 European Commissioners.

This is, of course, a big step forward from when the European institutions were founded some decades ago. But far from the ambitions of 2010 when the European Commission issued a declaration upholding the idea that gender equality is a fundamental right, and reaffirming its commitment to pursuing the “fairer representation of women and men in positions of power in public life and the economy.”

Much remains to be done to advance female leadership and to increase the number of women in top EU positions. And as an example, we can look no further than the EU Parliament itself: from the previous 2009-2014 parliament the number of women MEPs has risen by less than 2%: at this rate, it has been suggested, it will take 50 years to achieve full gender balance.

In a similar vein, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has stated it was “pathetic” that he had been unable to appoint more than nine women to the Commission despite his having urged national governments to put forward more. We wholeheartedly agree with him. The question is, though, what is to be done about it?

The core aims of the EU Women Caucus are to increase the diversity of future nominations for high-level management positions within all areas of the EU, to improve EU procedures when recruiting for senior posts, and to involve partners from outside the world of politics in further advancing the argument.

While we accept that the European Union is strongly committed to promoting women’s political and economic empowerment in Member States and across the world, we also demand that the European Union institutions should lead by example.

Apart from the appearance of being out of touch with a large part of the EU’s population, the consequences of not speeding up this process might also be crucial to the EU’s future development and economic prosperity.

To stay competitive on a global scale, the European Union needs to mobilize the untapped potential and talent of women in all spheres: and it is vital that this includes senior positions within the political and administrative areas of the EU.

The aim of the EU Women Caucus is to strengthen the collaboration between politically engaged, leading women in the institutions of the European Union and to build a strong alliance that seeks to make gender balanced political representation across the EU institutions a permanent and central part of the debate.

European Union Women Caucus: Mission statement

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