Jean Monnet Center at NYU School of Law



The European Union has long pursued a policy on equal opportunities for women and men, based originally on Article 119 of the EEC Treaty and the jurisprudence of the European Court of Justice, and more recently on a series of Directives on equal treatment for men and women in the workplace.1 Yet the impact of EU equal opportunities policy on the women of Europe remains a bone of contention in the scholarly literature. Simplifying only slightly, we can say that scholarly "optimists" view Article 119 and other elements of EU equal opportunities law as a new legal resource for European women, which creates legally enforceable rights to equal pay and equal treatment in the workplace and has been interpreted expansively by the European Court of Justice (cf. Stone Sweet and Caporaso 1996; Cicowski 1998). By contrast, we can also identify a second literature, inspired by feminist theory and far more critical of EU equal opportunities policy. In this view, European Union policy focuses narrowly on women as participants in the workplace, while ignoring the most fundamental aspects of women's inequality in European society (cf. Rees 1998; Hoskyns 1996; Elman 1997). In this view, EU equal opportunities policy represents at best a handful of Directives, most of which represent little or no real advance to most European women, and which in any event adopt a narrow, neoliberal view of women as participants in the workplace.

The starting point for this article is that both of these conceptions are correct: that is, EU equal opportunities policy has indeed pushed forward with an ambitious agenda of legally enforceable rights for European women, but that it has done so along the comparatively narrow, neoliberal front of workplace legislation. From this starting point, however, we argue that the European Union has during the course of the 1990s begun to pursue a broader agenda, moving beyond its previous emphasis on equal treatment, to embrace both positive action and gender mainstreaming, with potentially important consequences for European women and for the European Union as a progressive polity. First, with regard to positive action, the European Commission in particular has pressed forward with a series of specific, positive actions on behalf of women, both within and outside the workplace, ranging from child care and affirmative action to questions of women in leadership and violence against women. Second, and parallel to these specific actions, the Union has recently adopted an official commitment to "mainstreaming" gender issues across all EU policies. Although in its infancy, this gender mainstreaming approach holds the revolutionary promise of taking women's issues out of a narrow policy community and inserting the concerns of women across the entire spectrum of EU public policies.

In this article, we examine and explain the expansion of the EU equal opportunities agenda, focusing primarily on the potentially revolutionary, yet little-studied, principle of gender mainstreaming.

The article is organized into four parts. In Part I, we introduce Rees's three categories of equal treatment, positive action, and gender mainstreaming, arguing that the EU has in recent years adopted all three approaches in its equal treatment policy. This expansion of the EU equal opportunities agenda, we argue, can be explained by the core concepts of social movement theory-political opportunities, mobilizing structures, and strategic framing-which we introduce briefly. In Part II of the article, we turn to the official adoption of a gender-mainstreaming approach by the European Commission in 1996, arguing that the adoption of the new policy frame can be explained in terms of the increased political opportunities presented by the Maastricht Treaty and the 1995 World Conference on Women, the supranational network of women advocates at the EU level, and the resonance or fit of mainstreaming with the EU's institutional structure. In Part III, we move beyond the adoption of mainstreaming to examine its implementation across five issue-areas, and arguing once again that the cross-sectoral variation we observe can be explained in terms of the categories of social movement theory. In Part IV, we conclude with a mixed assessment of both the promise and the dangers of the EU's new gender mainstreaming approach.

1 The authors are grateful to the Program on World Affairs and the Global Economy (WAGE) and to the European Union Center of the University of Wisconsin for funding various aspects of this research project. We would also like to thank Antje Wiener, Joni Lovenduski, Jo Shaw, Amy Elman, Sonia Mazey, and all the participants in the workshop on "Women, Power and Public Policy" at Nuffield College, Oxford (21-22 January 2000) for discussions and comments on earlier drafts. We would also like to thank the following individuals for their willingness to share their views and documentation with us: Anne Havnør (European Commission, Social Affairs and Employment), Els Van-Winckel (Social Affairs and Employment), Frédérique Lorenzi (Regional and Cohesion Policy); Arne Ström (Development); Nicole DeWandre (Science, Research and Development), Simon Duffin (European Parliament), Barbara Helfferich (European Women's Lobby), Steve Effingham and Anne-Marie Lawlor (both of United Kingdom Permanent Representation to the EU), and several other present and former Commission officials who asked not to be identified. Responsibility for the paper's flaws and omissions, of course, remains our own.



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