April 18 (Bloomberg) -- Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition rebuffed an opposition move to set binding quotas for women on German company boards, blocking a parliamentary motion that threatened to split her party in an election year.
Merkel’s Christian Democratic-led bloc used its majority in the lower house in Berlin today to vote down the motion by Social Democrats and Greens that would have forced large companies to reserve as many as 20 percent of board seats for women from this year, rising to 40 percent from 2018.
Merkel’s bloc reached a comprise this week on a binding quota of 30 percent from 2020, heading off a rebellion by Merkel allies including Labor Minister Ursula von der Leyen who had threatened to break ranks in support of placing more women on boards unless statutory quotas were introduced.
“We’ve always wanted more women in leadership positions, not only on supervisory boards, but in other areas too,” Volker Kauder, the CDU/CSU caucus leader, told lawmakers today. The chancellor’s party will give industry until the end of the decade to boost the number of women on company boards, “then things will get serious.”
The parliamentary showdown exposed a rift in Merkel’s faction between those want the state to intervene in Germany’s male-dominated corporate world and those who want companies to decide for themselves how many women to appoint. Germany’s first female chancellor has so far straddled the divide by supporting voluntary industry targets for more gender balance while threatening to set binding rules if companies fail to appoint more women to top positions.
According to the compromise reached by the CDU’s executive committee on April 15, at least 30 percent of supervisory boards seats of publicly traded companies must be reserved for women from 2020. That agreement, which overturns a party decision from last year for targets set by industry, enticed renegade party members away from siding with the opposition.
“It’s of great importance to many women in the CDU, not just Ursula von der Leyen, how we shape the issue of quotas,” Merkel told Bild newspaper in an interview today, adding that women’s issues are discussed in the party “from the heart.”
“You also learn: not all women think the same,” Merkel said. The chancellor told lawmakers from the CDU and its CSU Bavarian sister party two days ago that the compromise is one she can live with, according to a party official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting was private.
“Your motion is nothing more than a cheap and transparent election-campaign maneuver,” Gerda Hasselfeldt, the caucus leader for the CSU, Merkel’s Bavarian ally, told opposition lawmakers. “Your goal is simply to drive a wedge into the coalition and to divide us and that’s not going to work.”
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