Additional formal and informal structures
Abels (2019) underlines that the European Parliament has not followed the expected dynamic of “power in, gender out”, in other words, women’s representation has increased as the European Parliament has gained institutional power. The share of women in parliamentary leadership positions has also steadily increased over time. At the top leadership level, the President of the Parliament along with the chairs of the political groups set the agenda and timetable of the
European Parliament; they agree on the committee setup. The first President of the elected European Parliament was Simone Veil (1979—1982); since then, however, only one of the following 16 presidents was a woman, namely Nicole Fontaine (1999—2002). In the 2019—2024 legislature, women provide 55% of the committee chairs (12 out of 22), and 57% of the vice-presidents (eight out of 14); this is a significant increase from the previous legislature (36% and 21%, respectively). Apart from data on descriptive representation, at present, no research investigates how gender equality inside the European Parliament is influenced by various political—administrative functions.
Mushaben (2019, 80), however, finds that the potential “critical mass” of more than 30% women within the European Parliament is undermined by “gender-blind institutional reforms”. Here, she refers specifically to the new power balances emerging from the rise of intergovernmentalism and the increased use of trilogues to fast-track legislation, at the expense of transparency. Mushaben argues that women have increased their representation in the European Parliament, but have not experienced a similar rise in their influence. Hence, women have gained descriptive but not substantive representation.
So-called intergroups, i.e. informal groups with MEPs and external (informal) members from civil society organizations, are also important as they focus on specific political topics not directly covered by committees (Landorff 2019). One of the longest standing informal groups is the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Rights — LGBT Intergroup, established in 1997, which has had an important role in mobilizing for LGBT rights, particularly during the enlargement to central and eastern Europe (Kristoffersson et al. 2016, 50—52). Other intergroups, such as the Intergroups on Anti-Racism & Diversity, on Disability, or on Ageing and Intergenerational Solidarity, also draw attention to intersectional equality.
A wide variety of other administrative groups are important to the smooth operation of the European Parliament. This includes, for example, the European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS) and the secretariats supporting parliamentary committees. The EPRS, for instance, publishes fact sheets and reports on gender equality, often commissioned by FEMM.Yet, all of these structures are under-researched, particularly from a gender perspective.