The draft law would oblige listed companies in all 27 EU member countries to have women take up at least 40% of non-executive board seats, or that women occupy 33% of executive and non-executive roles combined.
The proposal, which had stalled a decade ago, got new momentum with fresh backing from Germany and France this year.
“It seems we’ve finally been able to kiss the Sleeping Beauty awake,” Lara Wolters, a Dutch socialist and a lead negotiator for the European Parliament on the matter told Reuters.
The issue of gender representation in the bloc of 450 million people varies broadly, with Estonia having 9% of non-executive board seats held by women and France more than 45%. The latter has its own legal target of 40% and is the only EU country to surpass that goal.
The European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE), an EU agency, said last April such binding quotas have proven more effective in improving balance on boards compared to countries legislating softer measures, or none at all.
Overall, women’s representation on boards grew after France, Germany and Italy introduced national policies since 2010. But progress has stalled recently with less than a third of non-executive board members in the EU’s largest listed firms being women, it said.
The next negotiating round, expected to be the last one, between the European Parliament and the 27 EU countries starts at 1300 GMT on Tuesday and Wolters was optimistic for a deal later in the day.
She said the parliament was pushing for 2025 as the target date for achieving the board quotas, compared to 2027 in an earlier proposal. The sanction for failing to deliver was still under discussion, she said, with “naming and shaming” the laggards a potential compromise.
Wolters said the landmark agreement would set the course for the future in which large but not listed companies should also be covered, as well as the EU’s own institutions like the European Central Bank:
“This is one foot in the door. And then, we go from there.”