Romana Jordan: X chromosome in the European Commission

The current European topic number one is the formation of the new Commission, the political leadership of a bureaucratic apparatus with several thousand staff members, which significantly affects the fate of over 505 million Europeans. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has to appoint as commissioners candidates that were nominated by the governments of Member States for 28 posts. These are functions that require first-class people because they need to have a thorough knowledge of the department they will lead and of European policy. They need to have a capacity for coordination and understand subtle nuances of expression. They have to know what to say and when to say it, and how to protect the interests of Europeans, but their work has to be carried out transparently. Their hearts must beat for the common European idea, values and prosperity, but they should also not forget which Member State they come from. It is not as if the EU were packed with this kind of smart and experienced politician. Juncker’s biggest problem is the formation of the EC, a third of which must be women, as was the case with the previous Commission. Do women have fewer of these qualities? Do they not want to be in the spotlight? Why are they ignored?

Despite the historical efforts for equal opportunities, there are many more men than women in decision-making positions and prominent functions. Commissioners, for example, are powerful, reputable and well-paid politicians. The so-called glass ceiling is under their feet, which is why women, despite their ambitions, knowledge and skills find it difficult to rise above it. But despite the fact that I have more experience in the field of equal opportunities than in professional politics, the loudest message concerning the formation of the new Commission bothers me: the candidate only has to be a woman to get a better portfolio and a higher position in the EC hierarchy.

Women and men should occupy positions of power more proportionally to create an environment equally friendly to all, regardless of gender. We are not the same and this is precisely the point – programmes in preschools and schools should encourage both girls and boys; women and men should have equal opportunities in education, employment, personal growth and career advancement that do not depend on their X or Y chromosome, but on their abilities and efforts. I long believed that in Slovenia we were close to this situation and when I was younger I opposed gender quotas. But with experience come realisations, including those regarding different approaches depending on gender. Anyone could say that this is only a subjective perception of the world, but it is confirmed by dull, impersonal and objective numbers. For example, women are more educated and complete their studies more often than men, but there are still more unemployed women than men. It is also shameful that in all Member States men earn more than women. Even the data about the low representation of women in politics, on corporate boards and in senior positions in academia have long been known. Changes are sometimes only possible when the situation gets very serious. For example, in Iceland, after the country was severely hit by crisis, from 2009 to 2013 the government was led by Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir. At the end of her mandate, Iceland was ranked 13th most developed country in the world according to the Human Development Index of the United Nations. However, it is not gender that is important, but skills, as was the case in Slovenia. Our first female Prime Minister did not win the election, she failed to even convince the majority of her party. The position just presented itself to her and she carried it out unconvincingly.

Nevertheless, I am now an advocate of gender quotas. However, these can only work in a responsible society. Quotas force people who pull the strings to think about male and female candidates. As there are fewer female candidates for prominent functions, the parties/companies/institutions have to implement a HR policy that provides equal opportunities to both genders in gaining experience and a fair fighting chance for promotions. Which Member States have nominated to senior EU positions women candidates and which merely women will soon become apparent during the hearings in the European Parliament.

In the 2009–2014 term, women constituted 35% of the MEPs and 33% of Commissioners. For the first time, we made up at least a third in both institutions, which is a sort of a minimum for a group to have at least some influence. The environment was creative, we worked in mutual respect. And I can say that in addition to personal differences, there are also differences in approaches to work, emphasis and views between the genders. I really got the feeling sometimes that some decisions were made in a “male network”, but I nevertheless left the Parliament with a sense of correct cooperation. At the very least, the most prominent European measure, the significant reduction of prices for mobile telephony, texting and the transmission of data, was carried out by Commissioner Reding with the generous support of female rapporteurs in the European Parliament.

Despite the difficulties Juncker has been encountering, the situation in the field of equal opportunities is improving in both Slovenia and the EU. The number of female MEPs is growing, although no woman was even considered in this year’s presidential elections for either parliament. But female presidents of parliamentary committees have become something quite common. Although it is a shame that wage differences exist, they are becoming smaller. There are also more and more women on corporate boards. Due to our proven capabilities, women legitimately expect that female politicians, presidents, commissioners, rectors and other important women will be chosen for their competence. Not because they are women, but because Slovene society needs this kind of elite.


The article was originally published in Večer on 13 September 2014. It has been reproduced here with the consent of its author, Romana Jordan.


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Translated by: Tina Goropečnik.


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