5 women who can top Europe most of
powerful institutions (but probably never will).
Illustrated by Greg Ruth for POLITICO
This could be the best time ever to be a top European Union job seeker. Of the bloc’s three most prestigious presidential positions, two are held by women. When Roberta Metsola became president of the European Parliament in January, she joined Ursula von der Leyen, the first female president of the European Commission, in the top leadership of the EU’s powerful body.
Women are also heavily represented in top EU bodies. Think Emer Cooke, who leads the COVID-19 response at the European Medicines Agency, or Christine Lagarde, president of the European Central Bank.
The biggest exception to this trend? President of the Council of Europe, who is arguably the most important institution of the EU. Not only have no women held that job since it became a permanent position in 2009, for any woman aspiring to that position, it turns out you’re damned if you do, damn if you don’t.
The exception became especially apparent when the office’s current occupant, Charles Michel, came across a few sexist-looking people – he first let von der Leyen stand and took the prestigious chair. attend a visit to Turkey; he then stood still and did nothing when the Ugandan foreign minister passed von der Leyen in the lead to shake hands with him and then Emmanuel Macron. (The French president gently suggested to the African dignitaries that he might want to assume the commission’s chairmanship.)
The location is both prestigious and unique by design. Created by Lisbon Treaty of 2009the job requires light international diplomacy, but the president’s main job is to facilitate compromises between the EU’s 27 national leaders as they make decisions during summits of the Council.
The President is elected for a 2.5-year term by the votes of 27 national leaders. The only other official requirement is that the person cannot hold a national office at the same time. But another informal rule has emerged: Council presidents must spend time “in the room” during summits – meaning they should be chosen from the ranks of former EU national leaders. .
ONE Report for 2019 from the European Parliament Research Service describes the position that has gone so far as to write down the rule: “Part of [sic] authority, in addition to being directly elected by [sic] colleague, derived from [sic] previous national political experience as prime minister of a Member State, and for example as a member of a club. ”
“It’s… being part of the club and knowing the rules,” said Geneviève Pons, a top assistant to former Commission Chairman Jacques Delors who now runs the Brussels office of the consultancy.
The rule, written or not, greatly shortened the list of women; of the current 27 national leaders of the EU, only four – Prime Ministers of Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Estonia – are women.
And then there’s the Catch-22 of the position. When choosing one for the position, national leaders don’t want someone too flashy, lest they steal focus from real players or look like they’re manipulating their own agenda. me. But the women who have reached the highest levels of national power are not usually florists; After all, unlike some of their male counterparts, they can’t rely on the boys’ club network built over the centuries to perfect their way to the top.
“It also means that she has a strong head and main agenda,” said Silvana Koch-Mehrin, former vice president of the European Parliament and founder of the Network of Women Political Leaders. powerful value of its own.
That is why even Angela Merkel, in the extremely unlikely event she wants the job, is unlikely to be chosen. While she helps with brokerage deals behind the scenes, the former German chancellor will probably be too overwhelming a stage presence for the tastes of her former colleagues.
“If you are a woman, you will have to prove [your competence] twice,” said Ana Mar Fernández Pasarín, associate dean at the Universidad Autònoma de Barcelona, who has researched the evolving role of the European Council president. “If you are a woman from a southern country, you will have to show more.”
When it aligns with their priorities, EU leaders have shown a willingness to look beyond informal criteria. In response to geographical diversity, they approved then-Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt in 2014 in favor of the very wallless flower Donald Tusk.
If European leaders are willing to drop the same expectation that Council presidents have spent time in the room, that will open the door to more women. For example, some countries have presidents or prime ministers who do not attend the summit but are popularly elected and well placed to act as the convenor necessary to do the job. Other women have demonstrated their competence as commissioners, diplomats or heads of multinational organizations.
Michel is expected to be reappointed when his first two-and-a-half-year term ends on May 31. But just in case the EU’s national leaders want to choose a woman, before or After his second term, POLITICO made an exceptional – but not overbearing – list. – European politicians may have never “entered the room” but are fully qualified to be there.
Nadia Calvino: Spain’s deputy prime minister has risen through the ranks of Pedro Sanchez’s government in a list of male-dominated economic ministers. Eurocrats knew her as director general of the Commission’s budget department from 2014-2018.
Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović: Croatia’s first female president, serving from 2015 to 2020, helped lead the country’s negotiations to join the EU before launching NATO. As the first female assistant secretary-general from 2011 to 2014, she is the union’s highest-ranking woman.
Kristalina Georgieva: Currently the executive director of the International Monetary Fund, the Bulgarian economist has made his mark in Brussels with a number of commissioner terms. As budget director of Jean-Claude Juncker, she defied another unwritten rule as one of seven vice chairmen of the Commission who had never been a minister of state and succeeded in negotiating to budget increase in 2014.
Mary McAleese: McAleese was twice elected president of the Republic of Ireland, serving from 1997 to 2011. Born in Northern Ireland, she made cross-border mediation a central theme of her term. Since leaving office, she has spoken out against Brexit, but she is not as highly regarded as Ireland’s first female president, Mary Robinson.
Helga Schmid: The Ukraine crisis has raised the profile of the secretary general of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The German diplomat’s three-year term begins in December 2020, building on her reputation as a behind-the-scenes negotiator with the European External Action Service, who helped strike a deal with Iran.
Zia Weise contributed reporting.
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