Viviane Reding, the European commissioner for justice, fundamental rights and citizenship, will present on Tuesday (23 October) her controversial plan for mandatory quotas for women on non-executive boards of listed companies, despite fierce opposition from many of the EU's member states.
Reding will propose that companies should be forced by 2020 to ensure that at least 40% of their board members are women. Currently, the proportion is around 14%.
The commissioner has refused to drop the plans despite a letter sent last month to her and to José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, by nine national governments calling for a re-think. This level of opposition would be sufficient to block the plan becoming law but Reding is counting on strong support from the European Parliament, which also has to agree on the proposal, to persuade member states to change their approach.
Ministers from Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, the Netherlands and the UK stated in the letter that although they agreed that there needed to be a better gender balance on company boards, measures to improve the situation should be taken at the level of the member states rather than the EU.
France – which is bringing in its own law that will force companies based there to have 20% of women on its boards by 2014 and 40% by 2017 – has written to the Commission to say that it is in favour of EU legislation. Belgium and Austria have also given their support.