Several EU countries mark 100 years in 2019 since women were allowed to vote (Luxembourg and the Netherlands), since the first women were elected as MPs (Luxembourg and Austria), or held a ministerial position (Ireland).

But the number of them in decision-making posts has been growing over the past five years, thanks, in part, to EU-level measures on gender balance.

There is no parliament in the EU which reserves seats for women, but legal quotas, party quotas, and “soft” quotas, such as recommendations and targets, are also becoming increasingly used.

National Parliaments

Representation of women in national parliaments rose to 30 percent in 2019 from 24 percent the year before, figures show.

Spain, where 47 percent of MPs were women, Sweden (46 percent), France (40 percent), and Finland (42 percent) led the way on gender balance, according to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), a Swedish-based organisation.

Change in France was drastic.

The number of women in the National Assembly jumped to 39 percent from 26 percent after French president Emmanuel Macron’s party, La Republique en Marche, burst onto the scene in 2017.

Latvia, Hungary, and Malta scored the worst, with fewer than 20 percent.

Croatia, Cyprus, and Greece scored almost as badly despite using voluntary party quotas and, in Croatia and Greece, legal quotas.

Quotas, which exist in 19 out of the 28 EU countries, normally require parties to nominate a certain proportion of women in elections.

But in Croatia non-compliant lists were allowed to go ahead, albeit with financial penalties.

And the number of women who were actually elected in 2016, for instance, was the lowest since 2000.

Not many women “were interested in stepping into politics these days”, Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis claimed after getting into power in July in a sign of Greek mores.

He formed a government of 22 ministers that included just two women – one of the lowest rates in the EU.

Female ministers

Cases like Greece aside, the share of female members of government in the EU also rose to 30 percent last year compared to 23 percent in 2003, according to the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE), an EU agency in Lithuania.

Spain (65 percent), Sweden (52 percent), and France (49 percent) also led the way on this front, followed by the Netherlands (42 percent) and Denmark (41 percent).

The last Spanish cabinet of socialist prime minister Pedro Sanchez had 11 women out of 17 ministers.

But the rates were far lower in Hungary (7 percent), Malta (12 percent), Cyprus (16 percent), Italy (17 percent), and Poland (18 percent).

And even in progressive governments, men were still more likely to be assigned high-profile ministries, while women tended to get socio-cultural portfolios, EIGE said.

At the top level, Germany, Romania, and the UK were the only EU states who had female leaders last year.

There were none back in 2003 and there were never more than four at a time (14 percent) during those 15 years, EIGE also said.

The situation at regional and local levels told a similar story of inequality, with just 33 percent of women in regional assemblies in the EU, EIGE added.

Equality in numbers

Looking back at this year’s European Parliament elections, 11 out of 28 states had electoral gender quotas compared to just eight the last time around in 2014.

The share of female MEPs (308 out of 751) grew to 41 percent compared to 37 percent in 2014, beating the numbers in national parliaments (30 percent).

But only six of the 28 member states presented a gender-balanced group of MEPs to the EU parliament: Sweden (55 percent), Finland (54 percent), France (50 percent), Slovenia (50 percent), Luxembourg (50 percent) and the UK (47 percent).

The incoming president of the European Commission, Ursula von Der Leyen, has also said she wants gender balance, with 13 women out of the next 28 EU commissioners.

She already has 11 female candidates to choose from and she has threatened to reject male candidates if need be.

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