Women on Company Boards: Equality Meets Subsidiarity

This paper explores the justifications for and objections to the proposed European Union ‘women on company boards’ Directive. It notes that Member State opposition to the measure had different emphases. Those new, post-socialist Member States which intervened prominently questioned the Commission’s understanding of the underlying social reality of gender inequality and the measure’s focus on results, while the old Member States which intervened raised mainly the issue of subsidiarity and challenged the need for legislative action, and/or particularly the need for legislative action at EU level. The paper further argues that the Commission weakened its case by emphasizing economic rationales for the measure, and submits that a principled justification fits the proposal better. Finally, the paper argues that subsidiarity-related arguments are available also to justify non-cross-border, non-economic projects, such as that of gender equality.