The European Parliament is taking up the issue of gender parity in the private sector by voting on a directive designed to implement quotas on the boards of directors of European companies.
The subject has been on the minds of European authorities for many years. The project, concerning listed companies, was first proposed in 2012 by the European Commission. The idea is to introduce a quota of 40% for women—or rather the ‘under-represented sex’—in non-executive positions, and 33% for executive positions on boards.
The increased presence of women on boards is intended to increase the ‘resilience’ of companies in times of war and economic crisis, according to the co-rapporteur of the draft, MEP Evelyn Régner of the Socialist and Democrat group. “Companies can only be resilient if women are on the board and leading the way. We need all their expertise,” she told the plenary. The key words ‘inclusiveness’ and ‘diversity’ were put forward, which according to Hélène Dalli, European Commissioner for Equality, guarantee better corporate governance.
However, this new European decision is not unanimous. Several states, such as Sweden, Slovakia, Hungary, and Estonia have pointed out that once again Europe is interfering in areas that are not its responsibility, but the responsibility of national governments. But for Commissioner Dalli, local voluntary action is not a guarantee of effectiveness on societal issues. “The progress made by voluntary initiatives is much slower and less sustainable. When self-regulation does not bring the desired result, regulatory intervention by the EU is necessary,” she explained to justify this further circumvention of the subsidiarity principle to which the European Union is accustomed.
Socialist Lara Wolters, a co-rapporteur, accepted the need for a “blunt” instrument, and said that objections to the draft, on the grounds that quotas do not leave room for merit, “belong to the previous century.”
The directive that was voted on Tuesday, November 22nd is not intended to be an inciting but rather a coercive strategy. Under the new rules, member states will be forced to put in place a system of sanctions for companies that do not comply with the new standards by 2026 and subject those companies that fail to punitive measures.
The forced implementation of gender quotas is only a first step. Other MEPs are already calling for quotas that take into account other minorities. Green MEP Pierrette Herzberger-Fofana believes that other criteria, such as ethnicity, should be included soon. “In the long term, we want to ensure that there is parity in all positions. This would be the foundation of a rainbow society, both participatory and inclusive,” she argued.
Such a drift coming from the European Parliament is familiar to the ECR MEP Margarita de la Pisa Carrión from VOX: “This is the beginning of the end. Now we are talking about sex, but why not gender? Or could we also talk about race or ethnic origin?” German MEP Christine Anderson from AfD condemned the text by saying the legislation was “a step back in a Marxist, ideological, so-called better world.”
These objections were brushed aside by Lara Wolters, who considers that inclusiveness and diversity must remain “a priority.”