Sixième volet de nos Drôles de Dames avec Androulla Vassiliou, 62 ans, juriste de formation et épouse de l'ancien président chypriote. Elle est aujourd'hui Commissaire à l'éducation, à la culture, au multilinguisme et à la jeunesse.
Does the fact that you are a woman play a role in your daily job as a commissioner ? In what sense ?
It's very difficult to generalise. It should make no difference whether a Commissioner is male or female. What matters is that you are up to the job. Having said that, I think women sometimes prove to be better organised, better negotiators, better listeners and more willing to strike sensible compromises. Despite all the advances that have been made in gender equality, many women would say that you have to be better than a man to do the same job, or at least you have to work harder to prove yourself.
With only 9 women appointed as commissioner, the parity between men and women is far from being respected in the Barroso Commission II. Why?
The number of women appointed as Commissioners largely depends on the names put forward to the President of the Commission by the leaders of the Member States. The Commission's President was very clear that he wanted women to be strongly represented in the College of Commissioners. Nine is obviously not representative if you consider that more than 50% of Europeans are women, but I think we are moving in the right direction.
Why are there are so few women in high responsibility jobs in the EU ?
I would like to see more women in top jobs everywhere, not just in the European institutions. Again, I think we are going in the right direction, but it's clear that more can be achieved. We should also be honest about the fact that some women do not want to take high-responsibility positions for family reasons. In my view, we need to make gender equality a reality, in word and deed. That means men need to take on a bigger share of responsibility with families so that their partners can go for the top jobs. We need to ensure that there is no 'glass ceiling' for women who want to take up responsibility and have the skills to do so.
Do you think that EU institutions could be qualified as "macho"?
This is not a word I would apply to the EU institutions. On the contrary, we have a clear policy to consider gender when making appointments.
Did you suffer any sex discrimination during your career?
Practically every woman of my generation will have experienced direct discrimination at some point in their lifetime. And too many women still face discrimination today, even if it is sometimes subtle. I suffered discrimination in my 30s when I was blocked from becoming a judge in my home country of Cyprus. At the time, I was a successful lawyer, with a young child. It was clear to me that the only reason I didn't get the opportunity was that I was a woman and the powers-that-be feared I would have more children. The idea of a pregnant judge sitting on the bench was just too much for them! Having said that, I was very fortunate to have parents who wanted my sister and me to have the same opportunities as boys of our age. After my school education, they encouraged me to study in London to be a lawyer. I practised law for 20 years. After my ambition to become a judge was thwarted, I moved into the political world and went on to be the President of the World Federation of United Nations Associations and an MP in Cyprus, before being nominated as a Commissioner in 2008. I have always worked hard, but I know that many women work hard and have not been as fortunate as me. I must add one more important factor in my case: I was fortunate to have a very supportive and encouraging husband!
If you could change something in the EU, what would it be ?
There are lots of things I'd like to change: I'd like to see a more inclusive and equitable society, with fair opportunities for all. I am very concerned about the high level of youth unemployment in Europe and I'd like to see greater efforts to encourage employers to give more young people a chance. After all, they are our future. Later this year, I will present the Commission's 'Youth on the Move' initiative, which aims to support wider learning and mobility opportunities to boost young people's prospects. If I think about my former portfolio, I'd also like to see everyone having access to the same quality of healthcare. It's completely wrong that the survival rate for cancer patients depends on where you live in Europe.
How would you define Europe in 3 words ?
Peace, cultural diversity and solidarity.