When the new President of the European Parliament was elected in mid-January everyone will have noted that the political groups which had the greatest chances of having their candidate elected (EPP, S&D and ALDE) had all nominated…men; the other groups…women.
This despite the fact that the Parliament has not had a female president since 2002, and has only had two since 1979, the issue of gender balance was not a significant one in the selection process. Although the EU is currently experiencing a major crisis, the need for renewal has not been taken seriously.
Finally the presidency has remained in male hands, those of Antonio Tajani (EPP, Italy).
When on the 25th January the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee held its elections for its President and 4 Vice-Presidents which make up the “bureau” (posts which are attributed according to the size of the political groups), the vote had to be interrupted after Roberto Gualtieri (S&D, Italy) and the first Vice-President Markus Ferber (EPP, Germany) had been appointed because there was a large risk that the European Parliament’s new Rules of Procedure would not be respected: given that the candidates for the remaining Vice-President posts were all men.
In December 2016 the Parliament’s plenary accepted one of my amendments which modified the procedure. In its latest version the Rules of Procedure forbids that a committee’s bureau be made up exclusively of one sex or one nationality (article 204).
The Budgetary Affairs Committee, presided by Jean Arthuis, is in the same’ situation and also decided to postpone the election of its second, third and fourth Vice-Presidents.
Two lessons can be drawn from what has happened:
This is not a battle of women against men; in the ECON committee the re-elected Chairman called on the groups to respect the rules. For their part, the EPP (Burkhard Balz) and S&D (Pervenche Berès) coordinators, from the two largest groups, publically recalled their commitment to them during the meeting. Antonio Tajani has also called on the political groups to comply with the rules.
Appalling as it may seem, in 2017, gender balance is fully reliant on binding rules: it required the Rules of Procedure to be changed to put an end to this common chauvinism. It is not enough to count on attitudes changing naturally. How can the European Parliament ask that the ECB, for example, respects gender balance in the selection of members to its Executive Board, if MEPs evade this objective?
Progess has been made. This should be acknowledged. The process is not yet complete however. We must remain vigilant. Some people are tempted to suggest the ridiculous idea of increasing the number of Vice-Presidents in order to ensure that appointing women does not deprive any of the men foreseen to take up these posts of their position.
It is only the final outcome which will show if the Parliament actually respects the principles which it chooses to impose on other institutions in its hearings, and in private companies, through its legislation.