The Treaty on European Union, one of the EU’s two key texts, states that one of the EU’s most important purposes is to “combat discrimination” and promote “equality between women and men”. As such, the statement this week by Jean-Claude Juncker, in which he announced his intention to block male commissioners from key EU positions, is a bit of a head scratcher. Tokenism is not a solution to gender inequality, meritocracy is.
The President of the European Commission vented his frustration over the majority of EU member states selecting men to take positions in the Commission. He has assured us he will continue “to insist with several heads of state and government that they send me a female candidate”.
A President nobody voted for has no right to “insist” on which officials Britain (or another governments within the EU) decides to send to Brussels. Britain’s EU Commissioners are chosen by our Prime Minister, not Juncker. David Cameron has already selected the unknown Lord Hill of Oareford instead of a strong Eurosceptic, such as Michael Howard or Peter Lilley, in order to appease Brussels, and now Juncker is attempting to make further demands.
Of course, we should welcome the idea of more women being in top jobs in the EU, but they should be selected for office because of their skills not their gender. Positive discrimination undermines women’s advancement, as they are perceived as being there just to fill a quota instead of being the best person for the job. Would Margaret Thatcher have been able to be the Iron Lady she was if she and the rest of the country knew she was in post only because she was a woman?
Despite the hammering it has taken since Blair came to power, with New Labour’s fast-track schemes and all-women shortlists, meritocracy is still a vital part of British national identity. While gender inequality is a crucial problem to overcome, true equality develops naturally and cannot simply be imposed by the State. A super-state with no electoral mandate will be even less effective in doing so.
Not only is Juncker’s threat a blow to equality and meritocracy, it is a blow to Cameron’s so-called ‘renegotiation’ plans. With Lord Hill apparently relegated to a low-profile job instead of an important economic portfolio, this already implausible renegotiation is doomed to failure. If we have no influence over financial affairs, we cannot safeguard the City, never mind claw our way out of the red tape that strangles its operations.
While it is debatable whether the hapless Lord Hill is the right man for the job, the choice fundamentally rests with Britain’s Prime Minister. We should take no lessons on gender equality from the European Commission – an institution that has never had a female President since it began in 1958.
Aside from Juncker’s statement demonstrating how unlikely we are to get a successful renegotiation, it is now clear all Britons in the EU may be equal, but some are more equal than others. If we are truly to improve gender equality in this country through meritocracy, and not merely get the statistics right, the people of Britain must be allowed to decide for themselves, in an In/Out Referendum as soon as possible. We must Get Britain Out of the EU.