Germany on Thursday said it would give its backing to an EU proposal setting a goal for at least 40 percent of non-executive company board members to be women — likely bringing to an end a deadlock that lasted 10 years.
Berlin will vote in favor of the proposal in March, Anne Spiegel — the minister for family affairs, senior citizens, women and youth — said in a statement about the 2012 Leadership Positions Directive (often called the “women on boards” proposal) on “improving the gender balance among non-executive directors of companies listed on stock exchanges,” an updated version of which will be given to EU employment ministers at a meeting on March 14.
“The directive is a necessary step towards greater gender equality,” Spiegel said in the statement, which also included comments from Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, who said that “companies make better decisions and are more successful if their human resources policy reflects social reality.”
Dating back to November 2012, the proposal intended to “set the aim of a minimum of 40% presence of the under-represented sex among the non-executive directors of companies listed on stock exchanges” and “requiring companies with a lower share of the under-represented sex among the non-executive directors to introduce pre-established, clear, neutrally formulated and unambiguous criteria in selection procedures for those positions in order to attain that objective.”
The European Parliament voted in favor of the Commission proposal by an overwhelming majority in 2013. But it never got past the member countries because several of them — including the previous German government under Angela Merkel — said it was an issue to be dealt with at the national level. Germany has in more recent years passed its own laws meant to increase the number of women represented in company leadership roles.
Commission President Ursula von der Leyen had made breaking the deadlock a priority. “It’s time to move forward with this file,” she recently told the Financial Times. The French presidency of the Council of the EU also made the file a top agenda priority and pushed the Germans to end the deadlock. “We have never been hiding the fact that we wanted to move on this important text on equality between women and men,” an EU diplomat said.
“The women on boards directive has been shamefully blocked by the Council for over a decade, undermining substantial progress we could have achieved in this regard,” said Robert Biedroń, chair of the European Parliament’s women’s rights committee. “Fortunately, for the first time in many years, we start to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Biedroń said the Netherlands had also changed its position “and is now in favor of the directive.” So far, 18 of the 27 EU countries support the directive, Reuters reported, which is enough for it to be approved.
According to the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE), women made up 28 percent of the board members of the largest listed companies in EU countries in 2019.
France, EIGE said, “remains the only member state with at least 40 percent of each gender on the combined boards of the companies covered.”
On Thursday, many MEPs welcomed the German government’s move.
“That‘s a big step ahead,” said Hannah Neumann, a German Green MEP. “A bit late, but finally. The change in German government unblocks many of the things conservatives had been blocking for years.”