Foreign Policy Blogs

Europe's (female) Commander in Chief

Europe's (female) Commander in ChiefJust as a woman bows out of the race for the most powerful political office in the world, calls for a female leadership role in the European Union are swelling. Launched by Danish Socialist MEP, Christel Schaldemose, the ‘Females in Front’ initiative is looking to fill one of the key posts in the 27-member Union with a well-known woman. In 2009, the Heads of State and Government will be looking to nominate candidates for the leadership positions in the Union: President of the EU Council of Ministers, President of the European Commission, President of the European Parliament and High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Until now, only one of these posts has ever been held by a woman: Simone Weil and Nicole Fontaine served as Presidents of the European Parliament, one in the late seventies and the other in the late nineties.

Schaldemose is looking for 1 million signatories to her petition for it to have enough clout to influence nominations. Naturally, German chancellor Angela Merkel seems to be the obvious choice for one of these top posts, though in light of the weakness of her ruling coalition partner, the Social Democrats, Ms. Merkel would be a fool to drop out of national policy making in 2009 to take over a leadership role in Europe when so much remains to be accomplished at home.

In a recent article in the Financial Times, EU Commissioner Margot Wallstroem has put forth a number of female candidates aside from Ms. Merkel: Tarja Halonen, president of Finland, Vaira Vike-Freiberga, president of Latvia 1999-2007, Mary Robinson, president of Ireland 1990-97, Dora Bakoyannis, foreign minister of Greece, Ursula Plassnik, foreign minister of Austria, Margaret Beckett, former British foreign secretary, Emma Bonino, former Italian minister for trade and European Commissioner.

Arguably, though none of the posts in question are truly democratically representative offices, nominating at least one woman would serve as a better reflection of the Union's actual population (more than half of it are female) – the Spanish cabinet, which includes more women than men is a case in point.

Women – not least Hillary Clinton or Margaret Thatcher – have proven they can be just as tenacious and ambitious as their male counterparts, providing it is the job they want. So perhaps Europe has to ask itself a different question altogether – and in part it is already doing it through the Lisbon Treaty: How can we make Europe's top jobs just as attractive as an American Presidency or a prime ministerial post. The answer: Add some real power to the mix, and you’ll have top candidates of both genders vying for the opportunity.



Cathryn Cluver

Cathryn Cluver is a journalist and EU analyst. Now based in Hamburg, Germany, she previously worked at the European Policy Centre in Brussels, Belgium, where she was Deputy Editor of the EU policy journal, Challenge Europe. Prior to that, she was a producer with CNN-International in Atlanta and London. Cathryn graduated from the London School of Economics with a Master's Degree in European Studies and holds a BA with honors from Brown University in International Relations.

Areas of Focus:
Refugees; Immigration; Europe


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