On 14 July 2015, the Minister of Equal Opportunities, Lydia Mutsch, and the Minister of Family and Integration, Corinne Cahen, presented the priorities for the Luxembourg Presidency in the field of gender equality and the integration of Roma populations to the European Parliament's committee on women's rights and gender equality which met in Brussels.
During her speech, Lydia Mutsch noted that women have been more affected by the economic crisis and its consequences, in particular austerity measures, owing to the fact "that they are more exposed to job insecurity, redundancy, poverty and social difficulties". According to the Minister, this is "even truer for single mothers, the young, the elderly, immigrants and ethnic minorities". She called for an evaluation of the effects on women of each strategy developed to combat the crisis and highlighted the importance of ‘Gender Budgeting’ in order to "show the different impacts of budgetary policy on women and men".
Lydia Mutsch reiterated the need to maintain the European Commission's Strategy for equality between women and men which expires this year. "For the Luxembourg Presidency, any proposals to integrate gender equality policy into other strategies would give the wrong message and would run counter to what has already been achieved, especially in the context of the post-crisis era. Equal opportunities should continue to be treated as a separate issue", she emphasised. This strategy, which she deems to be "crucial", would help to clearly identify the causes of gender inequality in all political fields, she explained. For the Minister, it is a matter of visibility, but "also, and above all", a matter of "priority and political credibility".
The Minister then presented the four priorities of the Luxembourg Presidency, highlighting that gender equality is "a priority" for Luxembourg and that it constitutes the "guiding principle" of its policy agenda. The first priority is the balanced participation of men and women in economic and political decision-making, explained Lydia Mutsch, noting that, in 2012, men occupied more than three quarters of ministerial positions in the EU and that the average percentage of women sitting on boards of directors represented 16%, a "mediocre" rate. Furthermore, she announced that the Luxembourg Presidency will support the proposed European Directive on improving the gender balance among non-executive directors of companies listed on stock exchanges, which have set a target of 40% by 2020.
The second priority is the job market and, in particular, increasing the rate of female employment. The subject of sharing responsibilities between men and women in professional and home life will be discussed at the informal meeting of the EPSCO Council (Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs) on 16 and 17 July 2015, as Lydia Mutsch announced. In particular, this meeting will aim to spark an interest in the subject among the Ministers of Employment and to discuss the role of men, which needs to be challenged, she added while also specifying that men may also experience discrimination and inequality.
For the third priority, the Luxembourg Presidency wishes to promote the principle of "Gender Mainstreaming" across EU policies and institutions, and the Minister explained that she felt it was important for the Council's other configurations to integrate the gender dimension into their work.
The Luxembourg Presidency aims to highlight the role that the EU can play in promoting equal opportunities and women's rights around the world, in accordance with the recommendations of the Beijing Platform for Action, which constitutes the fourth priority.
The Minister then discussed prostitution and violence against women. In this regard, she announced the Presidency's wish to speed up work on the ratification of the Council of Europe's Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, signed by 36 European States.
In conclusion, the Minister stressed the pay gap between men and women, which stood at 16.4% in March 2015, compared to 17.3% in 2008. Although the pay gap had narrowed in the majority of EU Member States, it rose in about a ten others, explained Lydia Mutsch.
The Minister of Family and Integration, Corinne Cahen, provided an update on European initiatives for the integration of the Roma people, including the EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies up to 2020. She explained that, despite all these initiatives, too many Roma people continue to be victims of prejudice, discrimination, social exclusion and, worse still, hatred and persecution. She expressed the view that social integration and anti-discrimination policies are insufficient. "I fear that all these efforts will not be successful until we are able to raise awareness in society and welcome Roma communities with dignity and respect, like any other community", she declared, calling for prejudices to be eliminated and for a change of attitudes.
She believes that integration is "a two-way process" and that it was "essential to raise citizens' awareness about the cultures, lifestyles and realities of all the Roma and related populations from Europe, whether they are settled or not". In her view, host societies must also make an effort with people wishing to integrate. The inclusion of Roma requires an integrated approach, continued the Minister. "We cannot limit ourselves to dealing with the subject from a social policy angle, it is necessary to work on the state of mind of the population in general", she concluded.
During the debate, the MEPs, most of them women, congratulated the two Ministers for their very "comprehensive" contributions. Several MEPs asked Lydia Mutsch about her intention to move forward the proposed Directive of 2008 on maternity leave, which has been blocked for several years and is threatened with being withdrawn by the European Commission in the context of its 'Better Regulation' agenda. One MEP shared her fears that the proposed Directive in favour of legal quotas for listed companies might go the same way. Others highlighted the importance of combating violence against women and called for a reduction in the pension gap.
In response to MEPs, Lydia Mutsch confirmed again that the issue of quotas for listed companies is a "priority" of the Presidency, which hopes to reach a conclusion in December. "Although very few women will actually be affected, the Directive will send an important message and will enjoy a very high profile", she believes. She added that "it is not time to make concessions on the 40% target" because it would cast doubt on the hard-won compromise agreement. As for the proposed directive concerning maternity leave, she noted that she "seriously regretted its fate", while reaffirming the Presidency's commitment "to the cause".
In this context, Corinne Cahen confirmed that it was also necessary to talk about paternal leave, which very few men take advantage of, and expressed the view that it should be made "more attractive" for men.