BRUSSELS — The European Parliament is considering changing its rules to improve the gender balance of its committees.
The measures are designed to address “striking disparities” in the gender balance of committees and delegations across the institution, according to an internal letter, seen by POLITICO, from senior Greek MEP Dimitrios Papadimoulis.
Papadimoulis — a Parliament vice-president who chairs a group of senior MEPs working on gender equality in the institution — sent the letter to the Constitutional Affairs Committee last month requesting its help in changing Parliament’s internal rules.
“A possible proposal could be that at least it’s needed to have 30 or 35 percent of women in each committee,” Papadimoulis said in the letter.
The MEPs in Papadimoulis’ group suggested that the “starting point” should be the Parliament’s current ratio of male to female MEPs: 61 percent of MEPs are male and 39 percent female.
“I think it’s an overall strategy the Parliament agreed to and it would be a good signal before the next European election,” said German MEP Gabriele Bischoff, who sits in the working group that will tweak the rules.
“It is a big step if you look at the current realities and that’s always the question,” she said.
In 14 out of 26 committees, less than 39 percent of MEPs are women, according to a document drawn up in October.
Ironically, the Constitutional Affairs Committee tasked with implementing the measure has the smallest proportion of female MEPs of all committees, under 15 percent.
Other strongly male-dominated committees include those covering foreign affairs, security and defense, tax, and budgets.
“Where there is money and power you have male domination. Coincidence? I don’t think so,” said Robert Biedroń, a Polish MEP who chairs the women’s rights and gender equality committee, by far the committee with the highest percentage of female MEPs at 86 percent. And yes, the women’s rights committee is chaired by a man.
“It may be to the surprise of many that a man is chair of the FMM committee. That’s why we are also doing it to show that men should also deal with women’s rights and gender equality,” Biedroń said.
When it comes to chairing committees, female MEPs are also under-represented — compared to the overall ratio across Parliament — with seven women in such roles and more than twice as many male chairs.
Three out of seven political groups have a female leader: the Socialists and Democrats, Greens and Left. Maltese MEP Roberta Metsola is only the Parliament’s third-ever female president.
The moves are taking place as part of the Parliament’s five-year “gender action plan,” which calls for better gender representation across committees and delegations.
“The composition of committees should at least reflect the ratio existing in plenary and needs to be further improved since it has a direct impact on decision-making,” said a spokesperson for MEP Evelyn Regner who is also part of the senior gender equality group.
The Parliament’s rules already state that decision-makers must take gender into account when appointing the most senior roles in the Parliament, such as president and first vice-president, and that the chair and vice-chairs of each committee must not be all male, or all female.