The European Parliament's committee on economic and monetary affairs tonight voted to reject the candidacy of Yves Mersch, the head of Luxembourg's central bank, for a vacancy on the executive board of the European Central Bank.
The centre-left and liberals on the committee led the negative vote as a way of protesting against the member states for not putting any female candidates forward.
If Mersch were appointed, and all the current members of the board served out their full terms in office, the executive board would remain all-male until at least 2018.
But the committee's protest vote may yet be overturned by the full Parliament, which will vote on Thursday.
The committee is hoping for a statement by Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the European Council, that will acknowledge their concerns about gender imbalance. Van Rompuy is to appear before the Parliament on Tuesday to discuss the outcome of last week's EU summit.
In a clear indication that the committee does not want definitively to wreck Mersch's appointment, Sharon Bowles, the chairman of the committee, said after the vote: “We still have time for something substantial to come our way that may make us see things differently.”
The vote followed an hour and a half of questioning of Mersch by the committee.The Luxembourgeois banker, consistently declined to answer questions about whether or not he was happy to be appointed to an all-male board. He countered that he had improved the gender balance at Luxembourg's central bank, in both overall numbers and management positions. He said: “I am very well able to distinguish between statements about me and statements about principles. I have too large a respect [for the Parliament] to think personal convenience or consideration should take precedence over Parliament's principles.”
But pressed about whether he would consider withdrawing his candidacy he warned against disrupting the work of the ECB. An executive board with only five members was, he said, “sub-optimal”. He was not in a position to withdraw his candidacy, he said, adding: “I have been nominated by the Council of Ministers.”