Viviane Reding, the European commissioner for justice, fundamental rights and citizenship, yesterday (14 November) made a formal legislative proposal to increase the proportion of women on listed company boards.
After weeks of wrangling within the Commission and a failed attempt to launch the proposal last month (23 October), Reding scaled back the scope of her plan to win the support of other commissioners.
The target for companies to have 40% of their boards made up of women by 2020 will be merely an “objective”, and member states will be entitled to retain much of their own rules.
According to the proposal, countries that already have an “effective” system for promoting gender equality would be able to keep it “provided it is equally efficient as the proposed system”.
Member states would have to lay down “appropriate” sanctions for companies in breach of the rules.
Companies would be required to make appointments to their boards “by applying clear, gender-neutral and unambiguous criteria”, the proposal says.
Reding said: “The Commission's proposal will make sure that in the selection procedure for non-executive board members priority is given to female candidates – provided they are under-represented and equally qualified as their male counterparts.”
In further proof that not all commissioners had seen eye-to-eye on the issue, Neelie Kroes, the European commissioner for the digital agenda, wrote a blog post saying that Reding “has accepted a solution” that addressed previous concerns about legally binding quotas.