* New plan foresees bias towards equally qualified women
* Earlier plan for strict 40 percent quota hit opposition
* Commission lawyers approve new plan, commissioners vote
By Claire Davenport
BRUSSELS, Nov 12 The European Commission wants
to make companies favour female non-executive board candidates
where they are equally qualified so as to raise the proportion
of women in boardrooms to 40 percent, EU sources said on
One source, who declined to be named, said the commission
plan did not set a binding EU quota for all member states but
rather set an "objective" of having 40 percent women by 2020 -
suggesting that an earlier plan for a strict 2020 deadline had
But another EU source, also speaking on condition of
anonymity, said the preference rule was "tied to the legally
binding objective of 40 percent by 2020, which means that if by
2020 companies have not reached 40 percent and have not been
appointing women instead of men, then they will also face
The European commissioners are scheduled to vote on the
proposal on Wednesday. Britain, which had led opposition to a
mandatory quota, believed its view had won out.
"The UK welcomes the Commission's decision not to impose
mandatory quotas for women on boards," a government spokeswoman
said. "We have consistently argued that measures are best
considered at national level."
The Commission estimates that women currently account for
fewer than 15 percent of non-executive board positions in
companies with more than 250 staff.
The new proposal would now oblige these companies to favour
"the underrepresented sex" from 2016 onward until a share of 40
percent is reached, the second source said.
Member countries would have the power to determine and
impose sanctions on firms that did not obey the rule.
If a majority approve it, the plan will then be voted on by
the European Parliament and the 27 member countries.
Norway, which is not a member of the bloc, has successfully
enforced a 40 percent quota since 2009, although critics say
this has been achieved in part thanks to a small number of women
holding non-executive positions in multiple companies.
Meanwhile members of the European Parliament are fighting to
rescind Yves Mersch's nomination to the European Central Bank's
Executive Board because they want a woman to fill the seat, one
Men dominate boardrooms and public posts in the European
Union, but many women who have risen through company ranks
resent quotas because they give the impression that women have
not been promoted on merit.
Among women commissioners, digital affairs commissioner
Neelie Kroes of the Netherlands and Climate Action Commissioner
Connie Hedegaard of Denmark oppose quotas.
But Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding, from Luxembourg,
launched the proposal, and several male commissioners are in
favour, including Economy Commissioner Olli Rehn from Finland
and the finance commissioner, Michel Barnier of France.
Britain has been the most outspoken critic of EU-imposed
quotas, with Business Secretary Vince Cable arguing that
London's current voluntary approach was effective.
The British upper house concluded last week that the
original Commission proposal would not "address the root causes
of inequality". The share of women on the boards of
British-listed companies rose to 12.5 percent in 2010 from 7
percent in 1999.
A working draft of the law says that companies must change
their hiring policies by 2016, so that they favour a woman over
a man with the same qualifications until at least 40 percent of
non-executive board members are female.
"The burden of proof is on the companies," the source said.