International Women’s Day: The EU needs a female boss

Article published on March 8, 2006
community published
Article published on March 8, 2006

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

It is International Women’s Day on the 8th of March. Angela Merkel, Tarja Halonen, Michelle Bachelet: the list of women occupying the top political job at a national level is growing ever longer. But what about at the EU level?

Clara Zetkin’s dreams seem to have come true. At the International Socialist Women’s Conference in Copenhagen in 1910, Zetkin called the first International Women’s Day into being. A year later, in March 1911, it was celebrated for the first time. The symbolic date was accompanied by a concrete political agenda – women wanted equal pay, as well as maternity rights and suffrage.

Women in Power

The past century has seen a fundamental improvement for women. And in some countries in Europe they have even climbed the dizzying heights of the highest political office. Margaret Thatcher was at the helm of Great Britain in the eighties, 1991 saw Edith Cresson’s rise to become the first female Prime Minister of France, and something of a trend has developed of late – the Conservative Angela Merkel is the new German Chancellor, Tarja Halonen has been re-elected as President of Finland. France could well have its first female President, given Ségolène Royale’s ambitions to be the Socialist candidate for the position as Head of State. And the Parisian Conservatives have nominated Françoise de Panafieu for the 2008 Mayoral elections.

This trend is not restricted to Europe – on 11 March, Michelle Bachelet will take up office as the Chilean President, and the US Presidential elections of 2008 could well be a dual between Hilary Clinton and Condoleeza Rice.

The implicit ‘Man’

Obviously one should not be over-awed by these developments. Europe still has a significant way to go before there is universal equality. Even if women manage to gain power in the Member States of Europe, there are still notable deficits in the EU itself. Never before has a woman sat in the chair of the President of the Commission.

This, however, would be an important signal and symbol for political equality in Europe. The discussions which arise as the Commission President’s term of office draws to a close and a successor is being sought are well known. As the end of Romano Prodi’s - the left-wing, southern European President - term in office loomed large on the horizon of 2004, a right-wing, northern European was being sought as his successor. Left or right, northern or southern – why not add the category 'male or female'? Such a move should not be understood as a generous, purely symbolic gesture to women. But it would be the right move to finally, and once and for all, remove the implicit 'man' criterion from the minds of male decision makers.

Even years after the Second World War, political power was the unquestioned monopoly of men. Many countries have, by now, overcome this and have women at their helm. It is now time, that also the EU takes a step in this direction. In 2009, the new President of the Commission could be called Angela Merkel. Or Tarja Halonen.