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Juncker's 'Women Problem' - And How to Solve It

03/08/2014 23:00 BST | Updated 03/10/2014 10:59 BST

After surviving David Cameron's persistent but ill-advised campaign to block him as the next European Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker might permit himself a few days off to recover. In the end, Mr Juncker successfully mobilised the support of 26 European leaders, opposed only by Mr Cameron and Hungary's Viktor Orban - an ally whose support the fainter of heart might be somewhat shyer to accept.

But instead, Mr Juncker has jumped from Mr Cameron's frying pan into the European Parliament's fire. The president-elect now has to put together a balanced and coherent team composed of nominees he has no say in choosing. Such is the selection process for candidate commissioners, that national leaders have a more or less free rein in deciding who to send to Brussels - until their candidates are grilled by MEPs in a gruelling series of parliamentary hearings. This marathon process lasts a total of 84 hours followed by a vote, with the objective of removing any weak links.

This year, the stakes are high. Apart from vetting the competence and suitability of the new candidates for their Commission portfolios, MEPs will also be paying close attention to the number of women on the team. The outgoing Commission is a respectable 32% female - well above David Cameron's Cabinet (with a lowly 22% women), even after his much heralded reshuffle.

But standards are higher in Brussels than at Westminster. The current nine female commissioners have called for 10 or more women in the new team, while Juncker himself called gender balance 'a political must'. With 37% women among its own ranks, the European Parliament will be in no mind for compromise.

So far though, just three countries have put forward women candidates - the Czech Republic, Sweden and Italy. This represents a pitiful 7% of nominees so far, and six short of the current Commission. With just seven countries left to announce their nominees, the 'ten or more' target looks almost certain to be out of reach.

What is Mr Juncker to do? Given that 10 EU members have never yet sent a female Commissioner, a fair way could be simply to ask all of them to nominate a woman. The Czechs have already done this, partly with the expectation of being given a better portfolio. Sweden and Bulgaria - to their credit - have only ever sent female candidates. On the other hand, Portugal, Belgium and Malta (among others), have never nominated a woman. Now is the time to change that.