HeForShe in the EU’s new leadership

15. October 2014

by Doris Manu

doris-manuThe hearing of Federica Mogherini in the European Parliament has just finished. For three hours, the MEPs have listened to a strong, confident, competent and determined young woman. Yet before this hearing the designated High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Commission Vice-President (HRVP) was underestimated by many on the grounds that she ”lacks experience”.

Generally, a young woman without experience is not taken seriously in the largely patriarchal world of international affairs. However, Mogherini was in the right place at the right time and was backed by her government, led by Matteo Renzi, to replace Catherine Ashton as HRVP. On top of that, she had the support of the chosen President of the Commission, Jean-Claude Junker, who defended gender balance in the new College of Commissioners and nominated Mogherini for the position that the former Polish minister Sikorski was aiming for.

A Commission without a significant number of women is, in my view, neither legitimate nor credible. […] Female commissioners will then certainly have very good chances of landing an important portfolio or of getting one of the most sought-after posts of vice-president, acting as my deputies.” Junker told the media.

The fact that the negotiation and trading of high-level positions in the European Union touched on the problem of gender equality can only be positive. Even if Barroso’s European Commission had the same number of women as Commissioners, the explicit declaration of Junker that he wants to have more women in his Commission brought gender equality to the public’s attention and raised awareness about the need for more equality of men and women in leadership and management posts.

Soon after, Emma Watson gave an impressive speech in the UN on this issue  and launched the campaign ‘HeForShe‘, making the point that gender equality is the issue of men, too, and that if we are to change the role of women in the society, men will also have to get involved.

We have seen this happening at the highest level in the EU’s top institutions. On the one hand, Jean Claude Junker stood up for gender balance; he stood up to member states who wanted to impose their candidates for specific posts, candidates who happened to be men.

On the other hand, he nominated Miguel Arias Cañete to be the Spanish Commissioner, a man who explained his poor performance in a debate with a female politician by saying that in debates with women “you have to control your superiority, intellectual or whatever” to avoid being seen like “a macho who is cornering a defenceless woman”. Unfortunately, Cañete voiced what many other men still think.

Mogherini’s performance during the hearing in the EP should make Cañete and all other like-minded individuals reconsider. Junker’s remarks should also bring gender equality in the Commission DGs and other institutions, which, despite employing numerous women, fail to place many of them in top positions.

It’s about time that men in the world of diplomacy and EU institutions became HeForShe.