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MEPs snub EU leaders over Mersch ECB job

25 October 2012, 16:38 CET
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MEPs snub EU leaders over Mersch ECB job

Yves Mersch - Photo BCL

(BRUSSELS) - European lawmakers snubbed the EU's leaders on Thursday when they voted down the leading candidate for a key European Central Bank post to protest a lack of women candidates for the job.

Recognised on all sides as well qualified, Luxembourg Central Bank head Yves Mersch lost out after a series of sharp exchanges over the representation of women at the top level of European political and business institutions.

A total of 325 MEPs voted against, with 300 in favour and 49 abstaining despite a direct plea on Tuesday by European Council President Herman Van Rompuy for Mersch's appointment to be approved.

Socialist and Liberal groups in parliament complain that EU institutions are failing to set an example and argued that Mersch's appointment would mean the ECB's executive board would be all male up until at least 2018.

"It is a great victory which looked unlikely at the start," said French Liberal MEP Sylvie Goulard.

"I now expect the European Council to show some common sense by withdrawing Mersch's candidacy, proposing new candidates and starting from scratch again on the nomination process for European institutions," Goulard said.

On the right, Corien Wortmann-Kool of the European Peoples Party, the largest group in parliament, said the council should stick to its guns and go ahead with Mersch's appointment.

The vote went largely as expected and since parliament only has a right of consultation in such appointments, EU leaders can ignore it.

But it is still embarrassing given that Van Rompuy had pressed parliament hard to endorse Mersch after its economic affairs committee turned him down on Monday.

Compounding the damage, on Tuesday, EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding had to abandon plans to set a 40-percent quota for women representation on the boards of top companies in the face of deep divisions within the EU.

Reding, vowing "I will not give up," said she had failed to garner enough support for the idea within the 27-member commission. A source close to the matter told AFP the European Union executive was sharply divided on the matter.

The reaction in Brussels to Thursday's vote was guarded.

"We take note of the (vote)," said one source close to the European Council.

"We will carefully assess the situation in light of the vote and in light of the urgency of the filling of the vacancy," the source added.

Van Rompuy had told parliament Tuesday that Monday's committee vote was "an understandable expression of concern that a great deal remains to be achieved, notably regarding the European Central Bank."

At the same time, he insisted it was urgent to fill the ECB vacancy while he had appealed to Europe's leaders "to identify and propose good female candidates for vacant posts" at the European level.

This was especially important "in the economic and financial sectors, where the under representation of women is blatant," he said.

"I hope that, with such renewed commitment to gender balance, Parliament will base its final decision on the current candidate ... on the sole criteria of professional qualification and experience," he added.

European governments have the ultimate power to decide the appointment after consultation with parliament, which has in the past forced the withdrawal of some candidates.

The last woman on the ECB board was Austria's Gertrude Tumpel-Gugerell between 1998 and 2011, before she was replaced by Peter Praet of Belgium in preference to Slovakia's Elena Kohutikova.

Eurozone finance ministers nominated Mersch in July to replace Spain's Jose Manuel Gonzalez Paramo.

Further information, European Parliament

Adopted text will be available here (click on 25.10.2012)

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