Jean Monnet Center at NYU School of Law


III. Implementing Mainstreaming: Piercing the Needles' Eyes

In their critical review of EU equal opportunities policy, Ilona Ostner and Jane Lewis (1995) argue persuasively that any gender-related policies at the European Union level must pass through two "needles' eyes" in order to be discussed, adopted, and implemented: a first needle's eye at the level of the Union, with its narrow conception of equal opportunities in terms of equal treatment and its stringent requirement of consensus in the Council; and a second needle's eye in the variable implementation of EU legislation in the "gender order" of each individual member state (Ostner and Lewis 1995: 161). Although we have argued above that the Union has begun to move beyond the equal-treatment perspective, with its neoliberal emphasis on women in the workplace, Ostner and Lewis are correct in pointing to the institutional and ideological obstacles in the path of a successful mainstreaming policy. Indeed, we would suggest that there are not two but three institutional needle's eyes through which gender mainstreaming must pass: (1) the supranational level of the Commission bureaucracy, in which the majority of Directorates-General have little or no experience in adopting a gender perspective; (2) the intergovernmental level of the Council, where any proposed policies must garner a qualified majority or even a unanimous vote among the member governments; and (3) the member-state level, at which both binding and non-binding EU provisions are implemented according to the "gender order" of each respective member state. To what extent has the Union been able to overcome these three hurdles and institute a real policy of gender mainstreaming in the four years since the Commission's 1996 Communication?

It is, of course, early days for gender mainstreaming in the European Union, and so any assessment we might offer in this context must necessarily be tentative, relying primarily on procedural changes within the Commission, somewhat less on official policies which have only begun to emerge, and least of all on the record of national implementation, where little or no data is yet available. Nevertheless, on the basis of an exhaustive review of primary documents and interviews with Commission, Parliament, and member-state officials as well as NGO representatives, it is possible to review (a) the Commission-wide procedures put in place thus far to ensure that a gender perspective is indeed considered in the planning and implementation of all EU policies; and (b) the preliminary record of EU successes and failures in mainstreaming gender into both procedures and policies across five specific issue-areas. We consider each of these, briefly, below.

1. Commission procedures for gender mainstreaming

In order to succeed, the policy of gender mainstreaming must reach out beyond the core of equal opportunities advocates in and around the Equal Opportunities Unit, incorporating in the first instance officials from other policy areas and other Directorates-General. As Sara Nelen points out in an early review of EU mainstreaming, the methodological requirements for gender mainstreaming are quite demanding, including the appointment of key officials responsible for the overall mainstreaming strategy; the provision of training in gender issues for other officials whose substantive expertise lies elsewhere; the collection of statistics and other data disaggregated by sex, to be used in planning, monitoring and evaluating the effects of policy on gender inequality; and other specialized techniques such as "gender proofing" and "gender impact assessment" (Nelen 1997: 43-48; see also Council of Europe 1998; Rees 1998; Hafner-Burton and Pollack, forthcoming). Recognizing these demands, the Commission has set out during the late 1990s to establish centralized coordination, a network of gender advocates and experts across the various DG's, and explicit methods to guide officials in the implementation of gender mainstreaming across all policy areas.

First, at the highest level, the Santer Commission established the aforementioned "Equality Group of Commissioners" chaired by Santer and featuring Commissioners Gradin, Wulf-Mathies, Liikanen, and Flynn as regular members (with other members free to attend depending on the subject matter under discussion). The Commissioners' Group met only three times a year during the Santer years, and its actual impact on policymaking is the subject of debate among Commission participants, but in principle it provides both a high-level commitment to the principle of mainstreaming and centralized coordination of gender in all EU policies.

Below the level of the Commissioners' Group, two inter-service groups were established in 1996, the first devoted to equal opportunities in general, and the second on equal opportunities within the Structural Funds (which, as we shall see, were selected as a test case for the new mainstreaming approach). At a lower level, a group of "gender mainstreaming officials" has been appointed within each of the Commission's Directorates-General and Services: these officials serve both to represent a gender perspective in their respective DG's, and to coordinate policy with the other mainstreaming officials in the group (Commission of the European Communities 1998a, 1998b). In addition, many DG's have appointed, in addition to their gender mainstreaming official, a number of gender "focal points" to provide decentralized gender expertise at the level of the unit, although the training of these officials varies considerably both within and across DG's. Finally, in a preliminary effort to provide specific instruction regarding the procedures for integrating gender into EU policymaking, the Equal Opportunities Unit prepared a "Guide to Gender Impact Assessment," providing officials with a basic checklist for the inclusion of gender issues in any proposed policies (Commission of the European Communities 1997b).

Thus, by the end of 1999, the Commission had established a multi-tiered system of mainstreaming officials and a preliminary set of general procedures designed to ensure that gender issues are considered throughout the policy process, and across the various issue-areas and Directorates-General of the Commission. Throughout its preliminary communication and in subsequent work, moreover, the Commission has made clear that the mainstreaming of gender issues throughout the Commission should supplement, and not replace, the kinds of specific actions for women considered above. Indeed, in all of its proposals and communications, the Commission has made a point of pursuing a so-called "dual-track strategy," mainstreaming gender across the policy process while maintaining specific actions on behalf of women. However, the extent to which these procedures actually become part of the day-to-day policymaking of individual Directorates-General-and the extent to which gender issues actually pierce the various needle's eyes of the Commission, Council, Parliament, and member state implementation-is less clear. It is to this more difficult question that we turn in the next section.

2. Mainstreaming EU Policies: Five Case Studies

Thus far, we have dealt with the European Commission as a unitary actor, participating alongside the European Parliament and Council of Ministers in the EU policy process, and we have characterized the Commission or even the Union as a whole in terms of its political opportunities, mobilizing structures, and dominant frames. In order to explain the considerable variation in the implementation of gender mainstreaming across issue-areas, however, we need to disaggregate the Commission into its constituent Directorates-General and Services, which are responsible for the formulation of policy in various issue-areas, and which differ considerably in the political opportunities they offer to women's advocates, the networks that mobilize to take advantage of those opportunities, and the dominant frames that characterize the different DG's and define their respective missions. In terms of the social-movement model specified above, we would predict that the implementation of gender mainstreaming should be most advanced, in terms of both procedures and policy, where the political opportunity structure is the most open, where the networks of gender experts and advocates are most developed, and where the policy frame of mainstreaming resonates or fits with the organizational culture of individual Directorates-General. All of these factors vary among the various issue-areas and DG's of the Commission.

In the following pages, we review the evidence of gender mainstreaming in procedure and in policy across five issue-areas and five Commission Directorates-General: Structural Funds (led by Regional Policy and Cohesion, the former DG XVI); Employment and Social Affairs (formerly DG V); Development (DG's VIII and IB); Competition (DG IV); and Science, Research and Development (DG XII). In terms of dominant frames, the first three of these DG's have historically been interventionist in character, and relatively open to consideration of social justice issues, including gender. By contrast, the remaining two Directorates-General, Competition and Research, are oriented primarily toward market or technical criteria, and have considerably less experience dealing with gender issues; and we would therefore expect these two DG's to be less receptive to the gender mainstreaming frame. As we shall also see, however, the advocates of gender mainstreaming have proven adept in strategically framing the issue in order to fit with the dominant frame of a given DG, most often by emphasizing the gains in efficiency (as opposed to equality) that are likely to be realized if and when gender is taken into account across the policy process. In addition, the five issue-areas examined below differ significantly in terms of mobilizing structures of gender advocates outside the organization, and perhaps more importantly in the presence or absence of elite allies within the relevant DG's who have in each case played a central role in framing the gender mainstreaming mandate and carrying out its implementation.

Structural Funds. The European Union's Structural Funds-composed of the European Social Fund, the European Agricultural Guidance and Guarantee and Fund, and the European Regional Development Fund-were created individually over the decades since the adoption of the Treaty of Rome, and were managed by three distinct Directorates-General (Employment and Social Affairs, Agriculture, and Regional Policy and Cohesion, respectively) until 1988. In that year, the Delors Commission proposed, and the member states adopted, a major reform of the Structural Funds, which provided for a doubling of their overall budgets in real terms between 1988 and 1993, while at the same time bringing the three existing funds under a common set of Regulations, and creating a new set of Community Initiatives adopted solely by the Commission, and reflecting European as well as national priorities (Yuill et al. 1998: 90-95). These 1988 Regulations have since been revised twice: in 1993, when the budget was once again doubled in real terms, and the terms of the Regulations were adjusted somewhat to increase the influence of the member governments vis-á-vis the Commission; and in February of 1999, when the European Council adopted the so-called Agenda 2000 package, which stabilized Structural Fund budgets roughly at existing levels, while introducing additional administrative reforms to the Fund Regulations.

In terms of the three criteria identified by social movement theory, the Structural Funds might be expected to be particularly receptive to the Commission's new gender-mainstreaming mandate. First, with regard to political opportunities, the Structural Funds afforded women's advocates multiple points of access and elite allies among the three Directorates-General, including the presence of two members of the Commissioners' Group, Padraig Flynn and Monika Wulf-Matthies, who were strong champions of the Commission's mainstreaming mandate. Furthermore, surrounding these DG's there already existed a well-developed network of women's activists across the EU's member states, many of whom had already begun to participate in EU structural policy through the partnership provisions of the 1988 reforms (Braithwaite 1999). Finally, in terms of their dominant policy frames, all three Directorates-General involved in the implementation of the Funds can be placed toward the interventionist end of the continuum discussed above, given their concerns for social justice as well as for economic efficiency, and their pioneering role in the creation of specific, positive actions for women, such as the NOW (New Opportunities for Women) Initiative of the early 1990s, which provided 156 million ecus of funding to promote equality for women on the labor market (Commission of the European Communities 1998e: 18-19).

For all of these reasons-and because the Regulations governing the administration of the Structural Funds were scheduled for renewal in 1999, providing a timely window of opportunity-the Commission decided to make the Structural Funds a test case for its new gender mainstreaming mandate. In March of 1998, therefore, after a major Commission effort involving officials from multiple DG's and gender experts brought in as outside consultants, the Commission produced a draft set of Regulations for the period from 2000 to 2006, which effectively mainstreamed gender considerations across every aspect of the EU's structural operations. The proposed Framework Regulation contained ten substantive articles laying down specific requirements for the integration of a gender perspective at every major stage in the policy process, including: the general objectives of the Funds; ex ante evaluation of the situation in a given region in terms of equality between women and men; an assessment of the likely impact of proposed programmes on women and men in a variety of areas; the provision of statistics broken down by sex wherever possible; the "balanced participation" of women and men on all monitoring committees; and a requirement for the Commission to refer specifically to gender issues in its triennial reports on the implementation of the Funds. In addition to these far-reaching provisions, the specific proposals for the ERDF, Social Fund and EAGGF Regulations included specific wording making the removal of gender-based inequalities a core objective of each respective fund (Commission of the European Communities1998e: 14-15; and Braithwaite 1999).

Although potentially controversial in their potential impact on the member states, the Commission's proposals were supported by extensive technical documentation, and were preceded by widespread consultation of numerous Commission DG's and member-state representatives. Throughout the drafting and negotiation of the new Regulations, moreover, the Commission consistently framed the question of gender mainstreaming as a question of efficiency as well as social justice. This framing is perhaps best summarized in a January 1999 report produced for the Commission by Mary Braithwaite. In the report, Braithwaite writes that:

The integration of equal opportunities into the Structural Funds is not only for reasons of social justice and democracy. The main aim of the Structural Funds-to reduce economic and social disparities and to establish the conditions which will assure the long-term development of the regions-depends upon the fullest participation of the active population in economic and social life. Failure to overcome the constraints to the equal and full participation of women and men means that the development objectives of growth, competitiveness and employment cannot be fully achieved, and also that the investments made in human resources (e.g. in raising educations and qualification levels) are not exploited efficiency (1999: 5).

Here most strikingly, we see the Commission's effort to frame its gender-mainstreaming proposals strategically, to appeal to officials and political representatives concerned with economic efficiency rather than, or in addition to, social justice and gender equality. This strategy, which has also been found in several previous studies of gender mainstreaming at the World Bank and other international development organizations, was consciously designed to enhance the resonance or fit of the gender mainstreaming frame with the existing policy frames of a wide range of supranational and national officials, and would be adopted again by the Commission in other issue-areas, as we shall see presently (see e.g. Kardam 1991; Hafner-Burton and Pollack forthcoming).

Largely as a result of this careful preparation and strategic framing on the part of the Commission, the gender provisions of the new Regulations provoked little negative reaction or debate within the Council of Ministers, which adopted the new Regulations in June of 1999, with only marginal changes5. At the level of policy, therefore, the 1999 Structural Fund Regulations represent the first major breakthrough for the Commission's mainstreaming mandate. The extent to which individual member states and regions implement these provisions in their programming documents, and in individual development projects, remains to be seen as the new Fund Regulations are put into effect over the period of 2000-2006.

Employment Policy. The issue of employment has traditionally been the primary responsibility of member states, with at best a modest and indirect supporting role for the European Union. By the mid-1990s, however, the member governments, faced with double-digit unemployment rates, agreed to coordinate their employment policies, and in 1997 they inserted a new Employment Title into the Treaty of Amsterdam. According to the new title, employment would remain the primary responsibility of member governments, but a "high level of employment" was recognized a Community objective, and a new procedure was established for the annual adoption of a series of Employment Guidelines by the Council, followed by the submission of National Action Plans (or NAPs) by the member states, which would then be analyzed by the Commission and the Council in their annual Joint Employment Report. Although clearly non-binding, this annual exercise of setting joint guidelines and analyzing national reports was seen as a sort of "peer-pressure" exercise, in which member states be encouraged to address the EU guidelines and adust their policies in response to common EU priorities and the views of their counterparts in other member states.

The sudden adoption of the new Employment Title and its implementation in late 1997 created an unexpected window of opportunity for the Commission's gender mainstreaming mandate. Under the new provisions, the key role in preparing the new Employment Guidelines, analyzing the NAPs, and issuing recommendations would be played by the Directorate-General for Employment and Social Policy, whose Commissioner Padraig Flynn and Director-General Alan Larsson were deeply involved in, and supportive of, the Commission's gender mainstreaming policy. In addition, the DG was also home to the Equal Opportunities Unit, and therefore had access to the Unit's extensive gender expertise and advocacy. The dominant frame of the Directorate-General, finally, was clearly oriented toward social issues in general, and toward gender issues in particular, making the new Employment Title a particularly likely candidate for mainstreaming within the Commission.

In this context, the Commission came forward in October 1997 with a draft Proposal for Guidelines for Member States' Employment Policies, 1998, in which it made established four lines of action or "pillars" to guide member state policies on employment: entrepreneurship, employability, adaptability, and equal opportunities for women and men. Under each pillar, the Commission's Communication provided a brief introduction justifying the importance of the objective, followed by specific actions to be taken by member governments in the National Action Plans, and quantitative targets and indicators to measure member-state performance. In the section on equal opportunities, the Commission began once again by presenting its proposals, not only as a matter of social justice, but also, or primarily, in terms of efficiency:

There are sound economic and social reasons [it argued] for a reinforcement of efforts of Member States to promote equal opportunities in the labour market. While the employment situation of women has improved over recent decades, unemployment is higher for women than for men (12.6% as against 9.7%) and their rate of participation in work is lower (50.2% as against 70.4%). Within work, women are over-represented in some sectors and professions and under-represented in others. These labour-market rigidities, which impede Europe's capacity for growth and job creation, must be tackled (Commission 1997a: 16).

Once again, the Commission's language was clearly framed to ensure member-state acceptance of its specific proposals, which called for positive action in three areas: tackling gender gaps (through active state support for increased employment of women); reconciling work and family life (most notably by raising levels of child-care provision); and facilitating return to work by women after extended absence (by improving women's access to vocational training). Finally, the Communication proposed a weakly worded call for the mainstreaming of gender (or rather of women) across all of the guidelines (ibid). Final adoption of the Employment Guidelines, however, fell not to the Commission, but rather to the Council of Ministers, which retained the three specific equal opportunities actions called for by the Commission, but weakened the wording of several provisions, and eliminated entirely the Commission's proposed paragraph on the mainstreaming of gender in the other three pillars (Council of Ministers 1997).

Despite this setback, the Commission continued in its efforts to encourage the effective implementation of the equal opportunities guidelines by the member states, which submitted their first National Action Plans in April of 1998. Although the member states had clearly been required to draft their plans hastily, the Directorate-General for Employment undertook an extensive study of the NAPs, with a strong focus on their gender aspects. On the whole, the Commission's initial response to the NAPs was positive, noting that all of the member states seemed committed to the goal of reducing unemployment. Nevertheless, the Commission pointed out bluntly in its initial assessment that the equal opportunities pillar was the least well-developed of the four pillars in most reports, with very few concrete measures proposed (Commission of the European Communities 1998c). In addition, a detailed internal Commission study found that many of the NAPs demonstrated a rhetorical commitment to the principle of equal opportunities, but varied in the pervasiveness of a gender perspective, as well as concrete policy proposals and indicators for monitoring implementation (Commission of the European Communities 1998d).

Responding to these results, the Commission in September of 1998 issue new proposals to the Council for the 1999 version of the Employment Guidelines. Noting the importance of consistency from year to year, the Commission proposed to leave the guidelines largely unchanged, with the same four pillars and only minimal changes to the wording of the individual guidelines. Notable among these proposed changes, however, was a long and detailed reference to the principle of mainstreaming, which would be added as a fourth priority under the equal opportunities pillar. Although the member states had rejected a considerably weaker draft provision the previous year, in 1998 the Commission enjoyed decisive support from the successive British and Portuguese Presidencies of the Council. During the first half of the year, the British Presidency explicitly endorsed the principle of mainstreaming, which was inserted for the first time into the Presidency Conclusions of the June 1998 Cardiff European Council.6 The Austrian Presidency during the last half of the year was an equally strong supporter, and chaired the negotiation of the 1999 Employment Guidelines, the final version of which retained, unchanged, the Commission's extended discussion of gender mainstreaming, including the core commitment to "adopt a gender-mainstreaming approach in implementing the Guidelines of all four pillars. In order meaningfully to evaluate progress on this approach, Member States will need to provide adequate data collection systems and procedures." The Council also accepted more precise language regarding the other three priorities of the Equal Opportunities section (Council of the European Union 1999b). Finally, the Vienna European Council also called on each of member states to draft new NAPs by June of 1999, for examination and peer review by the Commission and the Council.

In the area of equal opportunities, and more generally, the Commission's review of the 1999 NAPs was much more thorough, and its report more specific and more critical, than the previous year's review. In its draft proposals for the annual Joint Employment Report, submitted in September of 1999, the Commission systematically analyzed each member state's NAP, noting strengths and weaknesses in specific proposals, and commenting explicitly on the presence or absence of a gender-mainstreaming perspective in the various NAPs, which ranged from a detailed and comprehensive approach by Sweden, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and France-which was singled out for praise after developing specific, quantitative indicators for gender issues in response to previous Commission criticisms-to a less detailed approach by countries such as Italy, Ireland, and Greece, which proposed specific actions in some areas but failed to mainstream gender throughout their employment plans (Commission of the European Communities 1999c).

In addition to this detailed analysis, the outgoing Santer Commission decided, for the first time under the new Treaty provisions, to issue specific recommendations for the member states' employment policies. At the urging of Commissioner Flynn, the Commission issued a total of fifty-six recommendations to all fifteen member states, including a number of gender-specific recommendations to countries as diverse as Greece, Italy, and Ireland (all of which were urged to strengthen the gender mainstreaming approach in their NAPs) and Finland and Sweden (which were praised for their gender-mainstreaming approaches but urged to reduce the segregation of women workers in traditional sectors of the labor market) (Commission of the European Communities 1999d). Although several member governments criticized Flynn regarding the accuracy of the Commission's criticisms, and insisted that his successor Anna Diamantopoulou engage in more extensive consultation prior to publishing recommendations in the future, the Council nevertheless accepted 53 of the Commission's 56 recommendations, and ratified the Commission's general call for greater mainstreaming of gender issues across all four pillars of the Employment Guidelines.7

Finally, in December 1999, the Council agreed yet another set of Employment Guidelines for 2000, with equal opportunities provisions almost identical to those of the previous year. Once again, member states will be called upon during 2000 to draft new National Action Programs, which will be expected to address the gender-mainstreaming provisions of the new guidelines. Whether this exercise will matter-whether it will actually influence policy outcomes in the member states-remains to be seen in the coming years. Nevertheless, it is striking that several member states (most notably France) have already made a deliberate effort to integrate gender issues more clearly into their National Action Programs in response to Commission and Council criticism, one need not be the victim of Commission propaganda to appreciate the transformative potential of subjecting national employment policies to an annual, and potentially critical, analyses from a gender perspective.

Development. The European Union in 1997 provided over i4.6 billion in official development assistance to countries in nearly all regions of the world, making the EU the fifth-largest donor in the OECD, and the second-largest multilateral donor in the world after the World Bank. Over the course of the 1990s, an increasing share of EU aid has gone to the newly democratized states of the former Soviet bloc, to countries of the Asia, Latin America, and the Mediterranean (the ALA-MED countries), and to disaster relief through the European Community Humanitarian Office (ECHO). By far the oldest and most important development activities of the Union, however, are those established by the 1957 Treaty of Rome to assist the group of former European colonies now collectively known as the African, Caribbean and Pacific (or ACP) states. Since 1963, the Union has reached regular association agreements (known collectively as the Lomé Conventions) with the ACP countries, extending preferential trade access, guaranteed minimum prices for core commodities, and development aid through the European Development Fund (EDF). The planning and implementation of EDF is aid involves multiple offices within the European Commission, but is concentrated primarily in the Directorate-Generals for Development (former DG VIII, dealing with APC countries) and External Relations (former DG IB, which is responsible for the ALA-MED countries) (Development Assistance Committee, 1998).

EU development policy presents a mixed picture from the perspective of social movement theory. In terms of dominant frame, we might expect the Directorate-General for Development to be a prime candidate for mainstreaming, thanks to its prolonged exposure to Women-in-Development (WID) issues in the international development community. Over the course of the 1980s, the Commission had participated in various UN and World Bank meetings on Women-in-Development, established its first part-time WID desk (in 1982), issued its first WID communication (1985), and incorporated short WID paragraphs in the third and fourth Lomé Conventions (1984 and 1989). A decade later, however, the political opportunities for mainstreaming in EU development policy still seemed unfavorable, for three reasons. First, despite repeated pleas from the European Parliament, which created a dedicated budget line for WID in 1990 and increased its allocation in subsequent years, the Commission was slow to develop gender expertise, and its two WID desks (in Development and External Relations) remained understaffed and underfunded, receiving little support from Development Commissioner Joao de Deus Pinheiro, who failed to make gender issues a priority during his tenure. Second, such gender expertise that did exist was concentrated largely in the WID desks, and did not extend to the general operations of the EDF, which undertook no systematic gender evaluations of its lending prior to 1995 (Development Assistance Committee 1996: 44). Thirdly, the actual operations of the EDF are highly decentralized, and so mainstreaming would require an extensive effort to develop procedures and training and disseminate these not only throughout the relevant Directorates-General in Brussels, but also to EU delegations all over the world, which would in turn be required to bring recipient governments on board. Under these daunting circumstances, the primary advocates of WID and Gender-and-Development (GAD) approaches generally concentrated their efforts on other international lenders such as the United Nations Development Programme and the World Bank (Hafner-Burton and Pollack 2000).

Despite this inauspicious beginning, the Beijing Conference on Women in 1995 provided a new impetus for the mainstreaming of gender issues in the EU development lending. In 1995, the Commission proposed, and the Council adopted, a non-binding Resolution on the "Integration of Gender Issues in Development Cooperation," which called explicitly for the training of Commission officials and the creation of new tools and procedures for integrating gender into EU development activities, and which once again adopted the language of efficiency, pointing out that the EU would not achieve its development objectives for the APC countries unless it made full use of the economic potential of the women as well as the men in those countries. Three years later, in May 1998, the Development Council adopted a binding Regulation on the same subject, providing a clear legal mandate for Commission activities in this area, funded by a WID budget line that grew to i5 million euros in 1997, divided evenly between the Development and External Relations DG's (Council of Ministers, 1998b).

Since 1995, both DG's have increased the number of personnel assigned to gender issues, and have established networks of gender focal points in 26 units of the Development DG, and three units of External Relations, supplemented by the use of external gender consultants both in Brussels and in the various EU delegations throughout the world. In addition, both DG's have gradually begun the process of developing specialized tools and instruments for gender issues, including a Gender Impact Assessment form in External Relations, and the creation of a Quality Support Group in Development to review all financial proposals over i2 million for attention to gender issues (Development Assistance Committee 1998: 34-36). In 1999, the Directorate-General for Development drafted a detailed and comprehensive action plan for the mainstreaming of gender issues in development policy, including extensive training of Brussels and field-based officials; increased support and training to the gender focal points; the establishment of a "gender help desk"; creation of new guidelines and checklists; revision of the EU product cycle management manual; and establishment of specific indicators for the future monitoring of the gender aspects of EU development programmes and projects.8 Finally, in February of 2000, the Commission and the representatives of the APC countries concluded a new, twenty-year cooperation agreement, which like its predecessors includes specific language on gender-and-development issues (Singh and Sarno 1999; Buckley and James 2000).

Despite these considerable strides in the last five years, both internal and external reviews of Commission development policy also point to substantial obstacles in the way of a successful mainstreaming policy, including the lack of gender awareness and expertise among EU officials in Brussels and in the field delegations; insufficient funding for gender training; the overwhelming dominance of male officials at the highest levels of the EU development bureaucracy; the need to develop new instruments and procedures; and the additional challenge of securing the cooperation of recipient countries.9

Competition Policy. In terms of the criteria proposed by social movement theorists, the Directorate-General for Competition does not, a priori, appear to be particularly fertile ground for the adoption of the Commission's gender mainstreaming mandate. By contrast with the DG for Employment and Social Policy, with its extensive equal opportunities networks and its links to the social partners, the Competition DG is characterized by a relatively closed policy process, in which private firms play a key role and few provisions are made for participation by consumer groups or other non-governmental organizations. Perhaps for this reason, and because of the lack of any obvious implications of competition policy for women, European women's groups have seldom mobilized around the issue of competition policy. In terms of its dominant policy frame, the Directorate-General for Competition is among the most strongly neoliberal DG's within the Commission. Dominated by lawyers and economists, the Competition DG takes its decisions on state aids, cartels and concentrations, and mergers and acquisitions according to legal and economic criteria, with extraordinary autonomy from the political pressures of member-state governments, and sees its mission as the creation and maintenance of a competitive European marketplace. For this reason, EU competition officials resist any suggestion from other DG's or from the member states that they take into account nonmarket factors such as employment, industrial or social policies in their decisions (Cini and McGowan 1998).

Not surprisingly, therefore, the Directorate-General for Competition is mentioned frequently by Commission officials as the most resistant of the Commission services to the gender mainstreaming mandate. By contrast with the DG's examined above-where resistance to mainstreaming is relatively rare, and typically takes the form of understaffing, underbudgeting, or insufficient training rather than active opposition-the Directorate-General for Competition has taken a principled stance against the integration of gender into its decision-making processes. Specifically, in response to the call for individual plans for the mainstreaming of gender issues by the Equal Opportunities Unit, the DG argued that the Treaties provide no legal basis for it to take gender issues directly into account in its decisions, although there was some legal scope for the indirect incorporation of gender issues, insofar as the Commission's state aids policy takes a favorable approach to national policies designed to help disadvantaged groups, including women, in the labor market. In addition, the Directorate-General noted that state aids are not approved by the Commission if they breach any articles of the Treaty, including those on equal opportunities. Overall, however-and despite the views of the Equal Opportunities Unit, which specifically mentioned the Amsterdam Treaty as the legal basis for mainstreaming gender across all issue-areas-the Competition DG has resisted suggestions that gender be systematically incorporated into its state-aids, cartel and merger decisions.10

Science, Research and Development. Since the early 1980s, the European Union has pursued an active policy to promote scientific research and development, most notably through a series of Framework Programs which sponsor collaborative research and technological development across a range of sectors. The most recent of these, the Fifth Framework Programme (1998-2002) was adopted by the Council and the European Parliament in December 1998, with a budget of 14.96 billion euros to fund scientific research across a range of areas including information technology, nuclear and conventional energy, and the life sciences (Peterson and Bomberg 1999: 200-227).

In the context of the current study, the Directorate-General for Science, Research and Development would not have appeared in the early 1990s as a particularly promising arena for the mainstreaming of gender in the EU's policies for research and technical development. In terms of political opportunities, the DG for Research had the smallest percentage of women among its senior or A-grade officials (7.6%) of any of the Commission services, providing few elite allies for advocates of gender mainstreaming. Similarly, the two primary advisory committees of scientists established under the Fourth Framework Programme possessed a female membership of 6.7% and 0% respectively (Osborn 1998: 87). Outside these official committees, there were several European-level organizations of women scientists, and a number of national-level networks as well, but these groups had little access to decisionmakers in the DG prior to 1995. In terms of its dominant frame, finally, the DG for Science, Research and Development, although not strictly oriented toward a neoliberal conception of the single European market, had traditionally awarded EU research grants strictly according to scientific and technical criteria, and has been resistant to the notion that these criteria might be compromised by any social considerations, including gender. Put differently, the dominant frame of the organization emphasized scientific excellence at the expense of any and all social considerations in the awarding of research grants, and thus encouraged a consistent and deliberate policy of gender-blindness in EU research and development policy prior to the late 1990s.11

In practice, however, this gender-blindness meant that the overwhelming dominance of men within the scientific community was reproduced in EU research policy, in which Commission officials, advisory committee members, and recipients of EU research grants were overwhelmingly male. During the early 1990s, the Commission took a few initial steps toward addressing the dearth of women scientists in EU programs, including a small 1993 conference on women in science, which put forward recommendations designed to improve the collection of statistics on the participation of women scientists in EU research programs, and to encourage women scientists to apply for EU funding. Furthermore, the Fourth Framework Program (1994-1998) placed a strong emphasis on socioeconomic research into quality-of-life issues, which might have been used to support gender-specific studies. Nevertheless, as Hilary Rose (1999) points out, these early efforts had little if any impact on policy during the Fourth Framework Program, which made no explicit mention of gender issues, and which failed even to collect any European-level statistics on the participation of women scientists in EU research programs.

Nevertheless, despite this apparently unpromising fit between the Research DG and the proposed policy frame of gender mainstreaming, the political opportunity structure of research policy became markedly more favorable for advocates of gender issues during the mid-1990s, for several reasons. First, within the Commission, a central role was played by Edith Cresson, then the Commissioner in charge of Research and Development as well as a member of the Commissioners' Group. Although not herself a leader on women's issues, Cresson provided encouragement and support to advocates within her cabinet and in the services of the Directorate-General for Science, Research and Development, where a working group on women and science was created in late 1997, with four full-time officials working on the program by 1999.

In addition, the EU's Fourth Framework Program came up for renewal in 1998, providing a new opportunity to amend its procedures, and a unique opportunity for the members of the European Parliament, who would participate in the adoption of the program by co-decision with the Council of Ministers. The Parliament had been an early advocate of integrating women in EU research and development programs, and women MEPs lobbied the Commission to adopt a more active policy on women in science. In 1998, the Parliament criticized the Commission's 1997 proposal for the Fifth Framework Program for its failure to include any significant language on gender mainstreaming or women in science. Although the Parliament was unable to secure the adoption of significant changes in the final text of the Framework Program12, its lobbying-together with that of non-governmental organizations like Women's International Studies Europe (WISE) and the European Women's Lobby-created additional pressure on the Commission, and provided support for advocates of gender issues inside the Commission.

Taken together, these developments created another window of opportunity for the advocates of the Women and Science program, which was inaugurated with a major conference in April 1998, followed by a formal Commission communication in February of 1999.13 The Commission's communication, entitled Women and Science: Mobilising Women to Enrich European Research, began with a detailed analysis of the systematic under-representation of women in science, and the gender-based obstacles that women scientists encounter on the job market, in the peer-review system, and in being appointed to positions of responsibility and power within the scientific community. Given these systematic biases against women in science, the paper argued, the aim of the program was not to compromise excellence in the pursuit of social justice, but rather to enhance the excellence of European science by removing barriers to participation by qualified women scientists-an efficiency-based argument which once again echoes the arguments made by women's advocates in the structural policy, employment and development sectors above (Commission of the European Communities 1999b).

Against this background, the Commission proposed two key objectives for the new program. The first objective was to stimulate European-level discussion and exchanges of experience among the member states regarding equal opportunities for women in science, in three stages. First, in November 1998, the Commission established a group of experts, the European Technology Assessment Network, consisting of a dozen women scientists, to study the challenges and prospects for women's participation in European research policy. Second, the Commission then convened a standing group of national civil servants, who might share experiences and best practice in the development of indicators, assessment and monitoring of women's participation in national and European research policy. Third and finally, the Commission hosted a July 1999 meeting in Brussels entitled "Women in Science: Networking the Networks," which sought to build transnational links among women scientists and increase their participation in the Fifth Framework Programme (ibid: 9-10).

The second objective of the program was to develop a coherent approach to women and science within the Fifth Framework Program, in order to promote scientific research by, for, and about women. The first of these criteria, research by women, featured the most ambitious proposals, designed to increase the number of women scientists participating in research sponsored by the Fifth Framework Program. As a first step, the communication proposed the creation of a system of indicators to measure women's participation in EU research projects, which had not existed during the Fourth Framework Program. In addition, the Commission would take active measures to encourage applications from women scientists, and to encourage project coordinators to put together research teams that are balanced as regards gender (although the proposal stopped short of suggesting positive discrimination on behalf of women in the awarding of EU grants). Perhaps most remarkably, the document proposed adopting a target of 40% participation by women at all levels in the previously male-dominated advisory committees, and the Commission would report progress on this score in its annual review of EU research policy (ibid: 11-14).

Now in its second year of implementation, and following the endorsement of the Council of Ministers in June of 1999, the Commission's Women in Science program is one of the most ambitious, and one of the best-supported in terms of staff and budget, of any Commission initiative under the gender-mainstreaming mandate (Council of Ministers 1999a). Although the program looks at first glance like the kind of women-only, stand-alone program that gender mainstreaming was designed to supercede, its essential goals-such as developing indicators of women's participation in science, improving the gender balance of women and men in all EU research programs, and carrying out gender impact assessments of those same programs-are all compatible with the aims and procedures of gender mainstreaming, and promise to transform EU research and development policy in medium- to long-term future.

Summing up this section, these five case studies, the results of which are summarized in Table 1, support two general conclusions. First, the progress of gender mainstreaming has been variable across issue-areas, reflecting the considerable variation in political opportunities, mobilizing structures and dominant frames characterizing each issue-area and its respective Directorate-General of the Commission. Secondly, however, the advocates of gender mainstreaming in each of these issue-areas have been sophisticated and strategic in their efforts to frame gender mainstreaming as an efficient means whereby officials in a broad range if issue-areas could achieve their goals in terms of employment, development, or scientific research. The categories of social movement theory, therefore, provide us with a useful set of hypotheses about the structural conditions under which gender mainstreaming is likely to succeed; but it also points our attention to the key role of agency, and the ability of strategic actors to overcome structural obstacles through a skillful process of strategic framing. We shall return to this point in our concluding comments below.

Table 1: Mainstreaming Across Five Issue-Areas


Political Opportunities

Mobilizing Structures/Networks

Dominant Frame/Resonance of Gender Issue

Mainstreaming Outcome

Structural Funds

Open (multiple access points; elite allies)

Well developed

Interventionist frame; experience with gender issues

Successful adoption of new Regulation, yet to be implemented


Open (multiple access points, elite allies)

Well developed (large group of women's networks around Equal Ops Unit)

Interventionist frame; Employment DG with primary responsibility for gender issues

Mainstreaming in 1999 Employment Guidelines


Moderate (multiple access points, but few elite allies in key positions; implementation highly decentralized)


Interventionist frame; previous involvement in WID/GAD debate.

1998 Council Regulation; increased training, new procedures. Action plan in progress.


Closed (minimal participation by non-firm actors, few elite allies within DG)

Minimal (women's NGOs inattentive to competition issues)

Neoliberal frame; deliberate effort to ignore social/industrial policy considerations



Open (multiple access points, elite allies)

Moderate (a few European-level groups, many national networks )

Dominant frame emphasizes technical efficiency, excellence.

Women and Science Programme

5 Interviews, Frédérique Lorenzi (June 1999); and Steve Effingham and Anne-Marie-Lawlor (June 1998). Texts of the new Regulations can be found on-line on the Commission's Inforegio web site at

6 United Kingdom Presidency 1998. In addition, the British Presidency also convened the first-ever Council of Equal Opportunities Ministers, which met in Belfast in May, with a focus on employment and reconciling work and family life. Interview, Steve Effingham (June 1998); see also Walker 1998. Subsequent meetings of the equal opportunities ministers have been held by the Austrian, German, and Finnish Presidencies.

7 For details of the Council's discussion of the Commission recommendations, see Smith 1999a and 1999b; and the articles in European Report, 23 October 1999; 17 November 1999; and 1 December 1999.

8 Interview, Arne Ström (June 1999); internal Commission documents.

9 Ibid. See also Development Assistance Committee 1998: 34-36; European Parliament 1997: 17; and Council of Ministers 1998a.

10 Interviews with two Commission officials in the Directorates-General for Social Affairs and Employment, and Competition, June 1998, July and December 1999.

11 Rose (1999); and interviews, Barbara Helfferich and Nicole Dewandre, June 1999.

12 Although the preamble of the Fifth Framework Program states that "... the Community equal opportunities policy must be taken into account in implementing the Fifth Framework Programme and therefore participation of women in the field of RTD [Research and Technological Development] should be encouraged," the specific measures to encourage such participation are left unspecified in the legislation creating the program. (Commission of the European Communities 1999b: 10).

13 Interview, Nicole DeWandre (June 1999).



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