Women in the Boardroom Europe Battles over Gender Equality at the ECB

The European Parliament has been holding up the nomination of Yves Mersch to the European Central Bank's board. The problem? His gender. At present, there isn't a single woman among the ECB's 23 governing council members. The issue could come to a head at the upcoming EU summit in mid-October.

The European Central Bank's new headquarters in Frankfurt.
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The European Central Bank's new headquarters in Frankfurt.

For weeks, the European Council and the European Parliament have been facing off over the lack of women on the European Central Bank's governing council. Now, that conflict is nearing a crucial deadline that may force a legal battle.

October 9 will mark three months since Luxembourg's Yves Mersch was appointed to the European Central Bank Executive Board at the last European Union summit. That appointment was delayed by the European Parliament in a push for a woman on the 23-member governing council of the ECB. The governing council consists of six people on the Executive Board in addition to the leaders of the 17 central bank heads from euro-zone member states.

At issue is "discrimination," as European member of parliament Sylvie Goulard put it in a letter to Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council, requesting "that at least one woman is immediately appointed to the ECB Governing Council." Goulard initiated the challenge to Mersch's appointment.

Parliament does not have veto power on the appointment, but it does question candidates at a public hearing and holds a floor debate on such appointments. Parliamentarians, however, have refused to schedule a hearing for Mersch. The European Commission and lawmakers at the European Parliament have been pushing for a woman on the ECB executive board since 2010, when Austria's Gertrude Tumpel-Gugerell stepped down.

Dangerously Close

As the standoff nears the three-month deadline, an agreement of some kind is possible between the European Council and European Parliament. Sources close to the Council, however, say that the body is considering passing a formal declaration at its summit in two weeks stating that the European Parliament has refused to make use of its right to invite Mersch to a hearing within the three months allowed for the procedure.

Such a declaration could clear the way for the Council to circumvent Parliament and install Mersch without the body's approval. That could trigger a parliamentary legal complaint in the European Court of Justice.

The back-and-forth over Mersch's appointment comes at a time when the European Commission has been trying to pass a regulation that would require listed companies to reserve at least 40 percent of their non-executive director seats to women. That push has recently run into opposition from the Netherlands and Britain. But Goulard has cited the effort as she attempts to force the Council to pursue gender equality on the ECB board as well.

Still, both Mersch and European Parliament President Martin Schulz are Social Democrats, and it seems unlikely that Schulz will go all out to block a political ally. Even so, the deadline is getting dangerously close.



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