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EU’s Van Rompuy Pressed on ECB Gender After Mersch Vote

A panel of European Union lawmakers opposed the appointment of Luxembourg’s Yves Mersch to the European Central Bank’s Executive Board while signaling a readiness to lift the objections should EU President Herman Van Rompuy pledge to promote more women for top finance jobs.

In a non-binding opinion late yesterday in Strasbourg, France, the European Parliament’s economic and monetary affairs committee voted against Mersch’s appointment because of a lack of female candidates for the job. The full EU Parliament is due on Oct. 25 to give its verdict on Mersch, 63, who is Luxembourg’s central bank governor.

The committee’s chairwoman, Sharon Bowles, held out the possibility that she would urge the whole assembly to ignore the recommendation and endorse Mersch’s candidacy should Van Rompuy ease concerns about gender imbalance on the ECB in a speech to the assembly at about 10 a.m. today. The committee voted 20 to 13 against Mersch’s appointment as an appeal to euro-area national leaders, whom Van Rompuy represents, to address the absence of women in ECB governing posts.

“Van Rompuy now has the last opportunity, when he addresses the plenary, to show us that member states are ready to commit seriously to encouraging women into top positions,” Bowles said in an e-mailed statement after the committee vote.

All 17 central bank governors in the euro area are men and, within the ECB itself, few of its managers are women. The ECB added one more female senior official on Oct. 19 when it announced that it hired Christine Claire Graeff, 39, as Director General for Communications and Language Services.

Two Women

Two women, Sirkka Haemaelaeinen of Finland and Gertrude Tumpel-Gugerell of Austria, previously sat on the ECB’s six-member Executive Board. If the five men currently there serve their full terms, another position won’t become available until June 2018, when Vice President Vitor Constancio retires.

“We are objecting to the EU’s most powerful institution being run by only men for the next six years,” Bowles said.

The ECB seat has been vacant since Jose Manuel Gonzalez-Paramo of Spain ended his eight-year term on May 31. Euro-region finance ministers then wrangled over his replacement until July. As Luxembourg’s representative on the ECB’s wider policy-setting Governing Council, Mersch is the euro area’s longest-serving central bank chief.

Gender Imbalance

ECB President Mario Draghi has said that, while the gender imbalance calls for action, Mersch’s appointment to the Executive Board should go through to help the central bank tackle Europe’s three-year-old sovereign-debt crisis. The workload of the Frankfurt-based ECB has multiplied as it embarks on unprecedented unconventional monetary policy measures and takes on additional supervisory roles.

Mersch refused to withdraw his nomination when asked to do so by Olle Schmidt, a Swedish member of the EU parliament’s economic and monetary affairs committee. Mersch said he was nominated by EU governments and, if the process were to be re-run, it would leave the ECB “for many more months” without a full board.

“An engine with six cylinders that runs on five is suboptimal,” he said, adding that deeply ingrained gender imbalances “cannot be resolved in one single nomination.”

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