(Reuters) – European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is making a new push at boosting women’s representation on company boards, trying to unblock European legislation for a women’s quota that has been stuck since 2012.
Germany has been among those EU countries resisting a quota, arguing the matter should be settled at a national level, but the new government in Berlin is now taking a fresh look at it.
Following are some facts on the proposed legislation and the state of play in the bloc regarding gender balance in top corporate positions.
WHAT IS THE LEGAL PROPOSAL ON THE TABLE?
In 2012, the European Union’s executive proposed that listed companies in the bloc must fill at least 40% of non-executive board seats with women. The target would be reached by giving priority to the candidate of the under-represented sex when equally qualified persons apply for the same job.
The proposed directive does not set out sanctions, but companies not achieving the goal would have to explain why and spell out what steps they will take to meet the target.
The proposed directive does not apply to firms with fewer than 250 employees or to unlisted companies. It would affect some 2,300 companies in the EU, according to estimates.
WHAT’S HOLDING UP THE LEGISLATION?
A majority of 18 of the 27 EU countries support the directive, but that is not enough for the super majority needed for approval.
Eight countries – Denmark, Estonia, Croatia, Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland, Sweden and Slovakia – have opposed the proposal, arguing the issue should be regulated at a national level.
Under former Chancellor Angela Merkel, Germany sided with this group, but the new government says it will take a fresh look at the issue. Should Berlin drop its opposition, it would tip the balance in favour of the legislation, experts say.
NATIONAL QUOTAS SO FAR
Eight EU countries have adopted national mandatory gender quotas for listed companies (Belgium, France, Italy, Germany, Austria, Portugal, Greece, the Netherlands).
Ten have taken a softer approach, using a range of measures and initiatives (Denmark, Estonia, Ireland, Spain, Luxembourg, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, Finland, Sweden).
Nine countries have not taken substantial action (Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Slovakia).
France has the strongest representation of women in the boardrooms of the biggest listed companies at 45.3%, according to the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE), against a 30.6% average for the EU as a whole.
THE EFFECT OF GOVERNMENT INTERVENTIONS
Starting from a similar level of around 13% in 2011 across the EU member states, the share of women on company boards has risen
– to 36.4% in countries that adopted laws to promote more women to top positions
– to 30.3% in countries taking soft measures
– to 16.6% in countries that have taken no action, according to the EIGE.
Reporting by Sabine Siebold; Editing by John Chalmers and Frances Kerry