Women's participation in the decision-making process of the European Union

The year 2019 was an important moment in the configuration of the European Union, as the European Parliament and the Commission were in the process of changing their composition. This moment was all the more important as it drew attention once again to an issue that the EU has faced in recent years, namely the progress in terms of gender equality and the number of women in different positions of power.

Source: Dreamstime

EU policy in place to support women 

Since the creation of the European Union, the promotion of gender equality has been one of the core priorities at the  European level. It was first included in art. 2 and art. 3 of the Treaty on European Union, as the principle of the equality between men and women, and in art. 8 and art. 19 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, which stipulates that the EU ensures the respect of equality between men and women, while the European Council and the Parliament can take appropriate actions in this sense and combat discrimination based on sex.

Moreover, the European Union’s institutions adopted legislation, issued opinions and reports, and supported through funding good case practices and different initiatives within the member states. The purpose of these actions was to highlight the importance of women in politics and to convince the EU institutions and the national governments to create effective policies in order to achieve parity in the decision-making process, at all levels. 

Despite all these efforts and equality being a core value that the EU is fighting for, it has still yet to be achieved at the level of political leadership.

Women's political participation in the EU’s institutions

When it comes to power at the European level, despite all the policies implemented, the data shows that women are still under-represented in some institutions, while some of these have registered some progress over the years. 

Within the European Parliament, for example, the percentage of female MEPs has increased from 15.2% in 1979, in the firstly-elected Parliament, to 40.7% in 2019, with 304 women. In addition, 8 of the current vice-presidents are women, and 12 of them are committee chairs, which implies that the number of female MEPs in high-level positions has increased as well in this institution, from 5 vice-presidents and 11 committee chairs in the last term. However, while it may seem that we are closer to achieve gender parity, we can still see high differences between the Member States. Only the women coming from Sweden and Finland are occupying more positions than men in the Parliament, while countries like Slovenia, Austria, Malta, The Netherlands, Luxembourg, Latvia, and France have achieved parity as well, leaving the other states behind with more male representatives. 

Although more than 80% of the state leaders remain men and less EU’s major political parties are led by women, for the first time in the history of the European Union, the president of the European Commission is a female. Furthermore, among her priorities, Ursula von der Leyen has already stated that she aims for a gender-balanced College of Commissioners. In September, 12 women were presented as the proposals of the next Commissioners, while during the previous term, only 9 of 28 commissioners were not men. 

But while the European Parliament and the Commission are further increasing their female representation, when it comes to financial institutions, men continue to dominate the decision-making process, with less than 12% of women as members. In a time when the European Parliament itself has been calling for more women in high-level posts in economic and monetary affairs, Christine Lagarde, who became the first women to lead the European Central Bank, could eliminate the deficit within the financial institutions. 

The other structures at European level are no exception. The percentage of women, members in the European Committees, according to the European Institute of Gender Equality, is less than 30%, with no female in leading positions, while in the European Agencies, these decision-making roles are occupied by 17 women, comparing to 20 men.

The situation is similar in the European Courts, where there are only 32% of women, none of them occupying a leading position. The European Court of Human Rights, for example, is the only court that exceeds 30% of women as members, while the lowest number is in the European Court of Justice.


It should be noted that compared to the rest of the world, Europe is still the continent with the biggest number of women in the decision-making process. In addition, according to the European Institute of Gender Equality, the domain of power is the one that registered the biggest progress in the efforts of achieving gender equality, in the European Union. However, when it comes to power, this area still holds the lowest score in the Gender Equality Index, as women are under-represented in the decision-making process.


The Gender Statistics Database of the European Institute of Gender Equality - https://eige.europa.eu/gender-statistics/dgs