THE BLOG
12/05/2014 12:50 pm ET Updated Feb 04, 2015

Female Leadership Is a Must, Not an Option

On International Women's Day in 2010, the European Commission issued a declaration upholding the idea that gender equality is a fundamental right, and reaffirming its commitment to pursuing the "fairer representation of women and men in positions of power in public life and the economy."

The quest for female leaders in order to achieve this fairer representation within the European Union Institutions is placed high on the agenda every 5 years, when the European Parliament faces the electorate at the ballot box and the new European Commission has to be appointed. The problem has been how to keep it there once the elections are over.

It is in response to this that the EU Women Caucus has been formed. This is a unique cross-party and inter-institutional platform for discussion between leading women in the European Parliament, the European Commission, the Council of the European Union and the representations of the EU Member States to the European Union. While being resolutely informal in its role, the EU Women Caucus is a means of building a network between women in positions of influence enabling them to keep the issue of the quest for female leaders as high on the agenda as it is during election periods.

The EU Women Caucus was officially launched by the Women in Parliaments Global Forum (WIP) and the Italian Presidency of the EU, on December 2. 2014 is a key time for the creation of such a platform. As an election year, it has offered a chance to put the EU's commitment to gender equality to the test. While managing to avoid scoring the lowest grade, the results are far from impressive. After the EU elections in May, just 37% of the Members of the European Parliament are women; there are also only nine women among the 28 European Commissioners.

This is, of course, a big step forward from when the European institutions were founded some decades ago. But much remains to be done to advance female leadership and to increase the number of women in top EU positions. And as an example we can look no further than the European Parliament itself: from the previous 2009-2014 parliament the number of female Parliamentarians has risen by less than 2%: at this rate, it has been suggested, it will take 50 years to achieve full gender balance.

In a similar vein, European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, has stated it was "pathetic" that he had been unable to appoint more than nine women to the Commission despite his having urged national governments to put forward more. We wholeheartedly agree with him. The question is, though, what is to be done about it?

The core aims of the EU Women Caucus are to increase the diversity of future nominations for high-level management positions within all areas of the EU, to improve EU procedures when recruiting for senior posts, and to involve partners from outside the world of politics in further advancing the argument. While we accept that the European Union is strongly committed to promoting women's political and economic empowerment in Europe and across the world, we also demand that the EU Institutions should lead by example.

Apart from the appearance of being out of touch with a large part of the EU's population, the consequences of not speeding up this process might also be crucial to the EU's future development and economic prosperity. To stay competitive on a global scale, the European Union needs to mobilize the untapped potential and talent of women in all spheres: and it is vital that this includes senior positions within the political and administrative areas of the European Union.

Authors:

- Margrethe Vestager, European Commissioner for Competition, Board Member of the EU Women Caucus.

- Stefano Sannino, Permanent Representative of Italy to the European Union.

- Iraxte García Perez, Chair FEMM, MEP, Co-Chair of the EU Women Caucus.

- Helga Stevens, Vice Chair ECR, MEP, Co-Chair of the EU Women Caucus.

- Sophie in t'Veld, Vice Chair ALDE, MEP, Co-Chair of the EU Women Caucus.

- Lara Comi, Vice Chair EPP, MEP, Co-Chair of the EU Women Caucus.

- Maria Joao Rodrigues, Vice Chair S&D, Co-Chair of the EU Women Caucus.

- Dimitrios Papadimoulis, Vice-President of the European Parliament, Co-Chair of the EU Women Caucus.