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EU leaders are calling for a female president of the European Commission or European Council and a “gender-balanced” leadership as voters head to the polls for European Parliament elections. 

In a blog post, 70 current and former EU leaders - including all the main parties’ lead candidates to succeed Jean-Claude Juncker as European Commission President - called for equal numbers of men and women as commissioners, vice presidents and presidents of EU institutions.

“Equal representation is in everyone’s interest. It is not a woman issue. Yet some still act as if women are a minority. Women are not a minority,” it said.

The call comes as Europeans go to the polls and politicians in Brussels and other capitals manoeuvre to allocate the handful of top EU jobs that come vacant this year.

Nationalist and anti-EU parties are expected to gain ground in this week’s elections and return a more fragmented parliament, making the allocation of the bloc’s top jobs more complicated and unpredictable.

Currently eight of 21 EU commissioners are women, as is one of the six vice presidents. However there has never been a female president of the commission, nor of the council.

The blog post was signed by Manfred Weber, lead candidate - or so-called spitzenkandidat - for the European People’s Party, Frans Timmermans of the centre-left Social Democrats, and the Green Party’s co-nominees Ska Keller and Bas Eickhout. Margrethe Vestager and Guy Verhofstadt of the liberal Alde group’s spitz-list also signed the pledge, as did Jan Zahradil of the conservatives, Nicola Beer of FD and Emma Bonino of Più Europa.

There is disagreement among national leaders about whether to use the Spitzenkandidaten process this time round, which selects the lead candidate of the European parliamentary party with the largest number of MEPs as commission president. The process was introduced in 2014 and was used to appoint Juncker of the European People’s party. 

The new commission is set to take office in November with the new council president installed soon after. However many expect the process could take longer.

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