Some of Brussels’ most powerful women are warning about the dearth of female candidates being considered for the European Union’s top jobs, as the bloc’s 27 leaders prepare to meet on Thursday to appoint the EU’s first permanent president and High representative for foreign affairs.
Neelie Kroes, the competition commissioner; Margot Wallström, vice-president of the Commission, and Diana Wallis, vice-president of the European Parliament, warn in a letter printed in the Financial Times that “it is time to move from words to deeds by appointing women to leading positions in the EU”.
Few of the candidates being mentioned for the presidency or the foreign policy supremo jobs are women.
Herman Van Rompuy, the Belgian prime minister, remains favourite for the presidency, with his Dutch counterpart Jan Peter Balkenende and former British prime minister Tony Blair still in the running.
With David Miliband, the British foreign secretary, bowing out of the race for high representative last week, the former Italian foreign minister Massimo D’Alema is often mentioned for the job, along with Olli Rehn, currently enlargement commissioner.
Beyond the highest echelons, there has been little progress in appointing women to influential jobs in Brussels, the letter points out.
Only three of the 20 countries that have publicly announced their choice for the next European commission have appointed women, despite repeated pleas from José Manuel Barroso, its reappointed president, to help him reach gender parity.
Mr Barroso has even gone as far as hinting he will offer better portfolios to qualified women in a bid to sway the remaining seven undecided countries.
“It still looks like the new Commission will have fewer women than the current one,” the letter notes.
The first Barroso commission consisted of eight women out of twenty five. So far, only Luxembourg, Cyrpus and Romania have nominated women commissioners, though Denmark, Sweden and Ireland, among others, are expected to follow suit by the end of this week.
As Mr Barroso pointed out last week, that will still make the Commission more balanced than the meetings of EU heads of state and government. Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, is the only woman head of government in Europe; Finland and Lithuania both have female presidents.
In a letter to European Voice, a Brussels-based weekly, a cross-party group of ten female MEPs threatened to bring up the gender imbalance in the parliamentary hearings for the new Commission.
“There is a growing feeling that if the European Parliament does not see more female candidates than currently, … it will reject the whole Commission and ask for more female candidates,” they wrote.
The rest of the Brussels bureaucracy is also heavily male: The Czech Republic is alone among the 27 to be represented by a female permanent representative in Brussels. Much of the permanent structure of the institutions is managed by men, including 15 of the 16 Commission policy directorates.