The nomination of Catherine Ashton as EU High Representative for foreign policy came as a surprise to many. I hear here and there what you always hear when a woman gets a high-level position, no matter how competent she might be or not: “Ashton has been nominated only because she is a woman. She doesn’t have what it takes for the job”. I think both accusations are wrong.
In a blogpost on Le Taurillon, Fabien Cazenave says Ashton was elected because first she’s a woman, and then, because the British didn’t get the Council President job for Tony Blair, so the EU needed give them compensation with the High Representative job. I disagree. Ahston was nominated because:
Of the largest EU countries, only Britain is led by a centre-left government. So the candidate logically had to come from there. David Miliband -the UK foreign minister- would have been an ideal candidate, especially as he is younger than most prominent politicians, but he did not want the job. Then Lady Ashton already works in Brussels as the EU’s trade commissioner, and finally yes indeed, she’s a woman of female gender. That is only a superfluous point in addition to the other ones listed above, that in my opinion have played a bigger role in this nomination.
She has almost a ten-year experience in the British government holding various positions as junior minister, as well as Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council. On top of that experience on the national scene, she’s held the position of EU trade commissioner for a year, a position that involves negotiating international trade agreements for the EU. On the national stage, I have never seen any man appointed as minister being criticised for a lack of background or skills in the portfolio they were to be in charge of. Whether you like it or not, competence doesn’t put people in power, but politics does. Why would that be different for the EU?
The unfair accusations that have been made against Lady Ashton reminded me of something I witnessed as a child and that had a big impact on me: the appointment of Edith Cresson as Prime Minister of France in 1991. She was the first –and so far the only- woman to hold the job and her appointment was considered as a very bold move by Mitterrand. The attacks she has been a victim of were completely out of proportion. Even if I were still a child, I could sense that the violence of the criticisms against her was triggered by the fact that she was a woman. That was 18 years ago. I do not feel we have made much progress as for the acceptance of women in power positions. So please, give Lady Ashton a break. She seems like a good person. Let her prove what she can do. You might just be surprised.
Let’s have a dream. Let’s dream of a fully female European Commission… Impossible, you may think? Try and think again. It’s actually so easy to do that just four random citizens came up with a list of at least one woman per country, in just 36 hours. Governments can’t be bothered to find female candidates, civil society decided to do it for them.
EU states are currently in the process of nominating their candidates for the European Commission. Each state can only nominate one person. So what happens? Not very surprisingly, most candidates nominated so far are men. This is very worrying as it seems that the 2009-2014 Commission will have even less women than in 2004-2009, a period of time when there were only 8 women out of 27 commissioners. This is not acceptable.
Over the past months, I’ve been promoting the idea of gender equality at top EU positions on my blog, Facebook and Twitter. Doing so, I was regularly confronted with comments asking the question whether or not any woman would be competent enough to take this level of responsibility. There are plenty of good, knowledgeable, competent women that can take over these jobs. We just never talk about them. Somehow men’s names always come up.
Now, there is no excuse anymore. We have found over 26 female names that hold all the qualities to become Commissioner. Let’s make it happen. Let’s have a genuinely gender-balanced European Commission this time. Would you like to make this come true? Then, follow these steps:
Although the Lisbon Treaty is still not fully ratified, there has already been a lot of speculation in the media about who would be suitable candidates for the 2 top EU jobs it creates along the -already taken- Commission President post: the President of the European Council and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.
Annoyed by the fact that most of the names that are currently put forward by the media are only men, some top European women have started to react: read here, here, and there. In an interview to TheParliament.com on Tuesday, Commission Vice-President Margot Wallström said “It is shameful that, so far, no women seem to have been put forward as possible candidates. All we hear about are people like Tony Blair and other men”. I agree with her. But I would go even further. It is actually more than shameful: I feel it is an insult to all women.
So why is Margot Wallström and many other Eurowomen so annoyed by this. Just take a look at the most recent European Council family picture I could find (here below). Let’s play a game: What’s wrong with this picture?
No it’s not the vibrant purple colour of Angela Merkel’s outfit (second raw, middle)… No it’s not the fact that Tarja Halonen, the female president of Finland (first raw, middle left), is not wearing a colourful outfit as top EU female politicians usually do… Try again. What is wrong is that apart from Angela Merkel, Tarja Halonen, and Mary McAleese -Irish President, not on the picture- there was no other female head of state (I’m not counting the queens) or government in the 27 European Union countries when this picture was taken (since then Dalia Grybauskaité was elected President of Lithuania). There’s roughly 98% of greyish/blackish suits on this family picture: that is what is wrong.
Here is a picture from a fellow French blogger that summarises the situation pretty well:
There are plenty of talented, charismatic, competent women that could take one of the 2 top EU jobs left. Here is a list of the names that “some” journalists have put forward:
That’s a short list. I’m sure there’s a lot more. Any idea? Feel free to contribute!
“Men approach their work with the same mindset they use in competitive sports. Competitive sports, war and the workplace are governed by a set of unwritten rules familiar to most men but unknown to most women. Unfamiliarity with these rules is the most significant and elusive factor trapping women below the glass ceiling.”
Adrienne Mendell, Rules of the “WORK” game, initially published on Womens Media, discovered on the excellent Blog Jump
A beautiful testimony on how it feels to look different, to be a black girl in a white world. Read here. The post was written by Lady and published on Writing for y(EU), the blog of the European Parliament’s web communication team. The EU affairs world -just like any other power centre- is still missing a little variety, which is precisely why equality policies and positive discrimination are necessary. To read more on this topic, consult the report I wrote on the PES activists forum workshop “Championning equality for all”.
At the PES activist forum this afternoon, I attended a workshop entitled “Towards a fair society – Championing equality for all”. The session was refreshingly interactive, giving the audience the opportunity to interact directly with the speaker panel right from the beginning. No long speech, just discussion. The panel included Rhonda Donaghey (SIPTU, Ireland), Lisa Pelling (FEPS Research Group), Michael Leiblfinger (Rainbow Rose) and Niall Crowly (Former CEO Irish Equality Authority).
PES balloons floating over Trinity college
Niall said that in this time of economic difficulties, governments unfortunately tend to cut funding for equality programmes, which are too often considered as the kind of secondary policy you can only afford in more positive times. However, according to Niall, an “equality crisis” preceded and led the economic crisis we are going through. Studies show that not only do the most vulnerable groups benefit from equality policies, but the society also does, for a more equal society is a more peaceful, healthier, and happier one. Therefore we should focus on putting equality at the core of the public debate in Europe, and protect the infrastructure that is in place to implement it.
Addressing the issue of discrimination against immigrants, Lisa Pelling suggested we change the way we look at immigration. We need immigration as our societies are aging and our population is shrinking. Therefore immigration is a chance for us, and we should even be proud that so many people choose to migrate to Europe. Building up on Lisa’s ideas, a participant said we should reaffirm that any citizen has the right to find their freedom and well-being anywhere in the world. He added that we should also be very strong in stating that countries that do not respect LGTB rights are simply breaching human rights.
As for people with disabilities, Niall points out that we haven’t yet moved in a position where it is part of our common sense to accommodate difference. It should become common sense and only positive action will enable us to move towards more equal societies. Rhonda closed the workshop calling upon the participants to act daily against all kinds of discrimination so that in five years from now we can see a more diverse European Parliament, free of extreme-right parties.