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Monday, July 28, 2014

It's raining men in Brussels: Juncker Commission at risk of humiliating veto by MEPs over lack of gender balance

We are now at the halfway point in terms of nominating the next Commission with 14 out of 28 member states having publicly announced their candidates. The line-up suggests we will have the most senior Commission to date with no less than four former Prime Ministers: Andrus Ansip (Estonia), Jyrki Katainen (Finland), Valdis Dombrovskis (Latvia) and Juncker (Luxembourg) himself. However, as the nifty graphic from EuropeDecides shows, there is a bit of a gender balance issue - only one of the nominees is female.

Notwithstanding the benefits of having a more balanced and representative Commission per se, the gender balance issue is important because the European Parliament - never slow to jump on a bandwagon or to give national governments a bloody nose - could veto the whole Commission if it contains too few women (even if the European Parliament's group leaders are themselves mostly male). European Parliament President Martin Schulz warned a couple of weeks ago that:
"Looking at the information currently available on the number of female candidates, the commission would not receive the backing of majority in the European Parliament."
The magic number is ten - one more than in the current Commission. This would require nine of the second group of 14 Commissioners to be female, which looks unlikely. Below we asses what the prospects are for the remaining member states to put forward female candidates.

Belgium: The good news for Juncker is that Marianne Thyssen, who has been an MEP since 1991, is among the front-runners for the post although Berlgium's current Commissioner Karel De Gucht has indicated he would like to stay on.

Bulgaria: It was reported that the outgoing socialist government would put forward Kristalina Georgieva, the current Bulgarian Commissioner international cooperation, humanitarian aid and crisis response, if she were to be given the position of High Representative even though she is from the centre-right GERB party. As such, it looks like Bulgaria will instead nominate current Foreign Minister Kristian Vigenin.

Cyprus: Androulla Vassiliou is rumoured to be retiring (she will be 71 in November) and in any case is from a different political party to the new government. No word yet on who Nicosia will send in her place.

Denmark: No news out of Copenhagen but the centre-left coalition government will likely want to replace Connie Hedegaard who is a conservative politician.

France: No formal announcement from Paris so far, but former Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici is the clear frontrunner. Former Europe Minister Élisabeth Guigou is still in the race, but she is broadly regarded as an outsider.

Hungary: Although it hasn't been formally announced, rumour has it that Orban will send Hungary's current Foreign Minister Tibor Navracsics to Brussels.

Italy: Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is still pushing for Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini as the new EU foreign policy chief. However, the Italian government would very likely put forward a different name if it became clear that Mogherini will not secure Baroness Ashton's job, and the new nominee may well be a man.

Netherlands: The most likely candidate is current Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, although it is unclear if he would still go to Brussels if he were not to get the coveted Economic and Monetary Affairs portfolio - something Juncker is reportedly not too keen on.

Poland: Poland's two leading candidates are Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski and former Finance Minister Jan Vincent-Rostowski, although there is a lot of speculation that in order to balance the Commission Poland could instead put forward Danuta Hübner, an economist and MEP who already served as the Regional Policy Commissioner between 2004 and 2009.

Portugal: According to the Portuguese media, Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho is considering picking Carlos Moedas, the Secretary of State to the Prime Minister, as Portugal's nominee. However, Juncker is reportedly putting pressure for the choice to fall on Finance Minister Maria Luís Albuquerque instead. Therefore, Lisbon could potentially nominate a woman.

Romania: It appears Bucharest has re-nominated current Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Ciolos.

Spain: Former Agriculture Minister Miguel Arias Cañete is the only name doing the rounds in the Spanish media. No real alternatives have been floated.

Slovenia: No news out of Ljubljana, where the centre-left won early elections held a couple of weeks ago. A poll out today has found that a majority would like Janez Potočnik, the the incumbent Environment Commissioner, to stay on.

Sweden: When it comes to gender equality, you can usually rely on the Swedes. Although nothing has been confirmed, EurActiv reported recently that Cecilia Malmström, the current liberal Commissioner for Home Affairs, might be able to continue even if Sweden elects a centre-left government in September's general elections as looks likely.

Our quick headcount reveals that in addition to Vera Jourova from the Czech Republic, we anticipate Juncker can potentially count on another five women (from Italy, Belgium, Portugal, Poland and Sweden) which would only put him on six - still well short of the target. Possibly MEPs could accept a lower number if a woman were also appointed as President of the European Council but not this low. 

If the European Parliament were to follow through on its threat to veto the entire Commission it would set up an unprecedented row with member states, some of whom would have to back down over their preferred choice of Commissioner (although the UK would probably be safe given the appointment of Baroness Ashton to the current Commission).

Normally when the EP generates these kinds of threats and ultimatums (like over the MFF last year) some kind of backroom deal is usually stitched up allowing everyone to save face but it is increasingly hard to see where Juncker will get enough woman from to placate the European Parliament.


Anonymous said...

So now we know that no sane person exists in the EU government who could suggest that this reverse discrimination and the selection of incompetent, yet politically correct, candidates is a wrong thing to do.
On the bright side, this being the EU, incompetence is a virtue and it is reasonable to assume that the most (in)competent male candidate would be just as bad for citizens as his female counterpart.
The EU - laughingstock of the universe.

Average Englishman said...

"it is increasingly hard to see where Juncker will get enough woman from to placate the European Parliament." I say ask Berlusconi; he should know a few who would liven up the Commission a treat and they couldn't do a worse job than the alternatives suggested so far: four failed prime ministers and an army of nobodies. Bring on the dancing girls. OK, a cheap and snide suggestion I know but I just can't take these jumped up faux statesmen (and fewer women) seriously. They really do have a credibility problem and not just with the likes of a Eurosceptic like me.

Rollo said...

Why are so many senior politicians keen on the EU, even when the electorate is not? Do you remember the old saying: 'all political careers end in failure'?
Well, that was prior to the EU: now when incompetence, dishonesty, failure, brings an end to the career of a senior politician, there is the EU to give them position and power again. That is why they embrace the EU so warmly.

Jesper said...

So it looks like a representative from a fringe party might continue as commissioner?

The liberals in Sweden are supported by 5-7% of voters, I suppose it wouldn't be seen as polite to refer to them as a fringe party but with so little support can they really be seen as anything but a fringe party?

Can they really be mainstream with such tiny support?

I suppose it could be that their politics are mainstream the problem is actually the mainstream voters who simply don't understand them.....