The president of the European Commission said she was increasingly optimistic that Europe would unblock delayed legislation this year aimed at promoting women’s representation in corporate council chambers.
Ursula von der Leyen told the Financial Times she was ready to work with France to push for the proposed directive during the six-month period of Paris holding the rotating EU presidency. She added that she was hopeful that Berlin would abandon its previous opposition now that a new coalition government had been formed.
Von der Leyen said lawmakers should strive to settle the mandate in the first half of the year if possible, and a deal could “definitely” be done at some point in 2022. “It’s time to move forward with this file,” she said. “It has been on the shelf for ten years now, but in these ten years there has been a lot of movement and learning.”
The commission first proposed the gender balance directive in council chambers in 2012, but it got stuck in the council of ministers due to opposition from a number of European countries, including Germany and some Nordic and Baltic states. They argue that the issue needs to be addressed at a national rather than EU-wide level.
Germany has its own domestic system, which set gender quotas for supervisory boards for supervisory boards half a decade ago and expanded the regime last year to cover management boards. Norway was the first European country to introduce council quota in 2008. If Germany shifts position, it will strengthen the board’s prospects of gaining enough voting weight in the EU Council of Ministers. It already has cross-party support in Parliament.
The suggested directive sets a target for 40 percent of non-executive directors in listed companies to be women, with the possibility of a lower 33 percent target for single-tier management systems.
According to the rules, the target must be achieved through transparent selection procedures, and companies that do not meet their targets will have to explain the reasons and report on the steps they will take. The Directive does not provide for sanctions and leaves them to Member States, and will not apply to small and medium-sized or unlisted companies.
The rules will affect a wide range of member states, as only eight have so far adopted mandatory national gender quotas for listed companies, including France, Germany and Italy. France currently has the strongest female representation in the boardrooms of the largest listed companies with 45 percent, according to the European Institute for Gender Equality, compared to an average of 30 percent for the EU as a whole.
An EU diplomat said it was safe to assume that Berlin would now take a “new look” at his position following the formation of the coalition between the Social Democrats, the Greens and the Liberals.
A German government spokesman said: “The balanced representation of women and men in council chambers is a major concern for the German government. The European Commission’s proposal for a directive is currently being examined by the ministries and a joint position of the German government is being reached. “
Von der Leyen will meet with European parliamentarians on Thursday morning. She said she had discussed the subject when she met with French President Emmanuel Macron and that Paris was “willing and determined” to take the initiative.
Von der Leyen said the evidence was “overwhelming” that companies with diversity in boardrooms were more successful and the introduction of legal requirements accelerated the pace of progress towards more gender-balanced representation.
She recalled that, as a young woman studying medicine, she expected progress to take place naturally, but she later changed her view on the need for legal mandates.
“I learned that in order to have a critical threshold for women on boards, you need a legal entity. [framework] to push companies in the right direction, ”said Von der Leyen.
“If we look at the EU in general. . . and with the challenges that lie ahead, we need all the breadth of talent we have, and of course for that we need to open up to women in leadership positions. ”