Berlin (dpa) - Germany's parliament rejected Thursday a plan to
set a women's quota on corporate boards, an issue that has stirred
passionate debate in the country and forced Chancellor Angela Merkel
to reverse her position in the middle of an election campaign.
In a 320-277 split, the Bundestag lower house rejected a bill previously adopted by the opposition-controlled Bundesrat upper house which would set a women's quota of 40 per cent in phases starting from 2023.
A parliamentary report before the vote said that at Germany's top 200 enterprises, women currently have only 10 to 17 per cent of the seats on supervisory boards, the topmost layer of corporate governance.
Merkel, who had previously said business should voluntarily raise women's presence at the top, suddenly committed earlier this week to a boardroom quota from 2020 - a move that angered business groups and conservatives, who see it as unwarranted government intrusion into the economy.
The chancellor's hand was forced by the threat of a split in her Christian Democratic bloc. Political handlers feared Labour Minister Ursula von der Leyen and other liberals would laud the quota, giving a propaganda victory to the opposition.
In response, Merkel promised to put mandatory quotas in the platform of her Christian Democrats for this year's September 22 election. It would set a women's quota of 30 per cent in the boardrooms from 2020.
Left-wing critics say the promise may never translate into legislation. Germany's first female chancellor, who has a doctorate in physics, has often stayed away from gender equality issues, arguing that an employee's qualifications trump their gender.
Frank-Walter Steinmeier, leader in parliament of the opposition Social Democrats, told dpa in an interview: "She couldn't care less about the issue. All that matters to her is avoiding hassle. The ones paying the price are the women of this country."
"(Merkel) acts as if she wants to do something to bring work and raising a family into sync," Steinmeier said. "She does a sort of political counterfeiting with nothing at its heart. The result is that we've had four years of standstill, dispute and hesitation."
An opposition proposal to compromise by setting a lower, 20-per-cent quota to start in 2018 also failed to win support in parliament on Thursday.
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