Photo by Laurence Chaperon (Wikimedia Commons)
Ursela Von der Leyen
Many Germans hate quotas. They are quota-phobic. If you want to bother a large group of Germans, lock them in a room with a range of quotas, carefully selected so there's a representative sample of each kind. They won't, for instance, countenance the idea of a quota of Turks in the police, and they won't have quotas of lower class people in higher education, and they definitely aren't keen on a 40 percent quota for women on the boards of big businesses. In fact, the German school system is set up to foster separation rather than integration.
A lot of German politicians do see the point of a quota. The SPD, the Greens, and the Linke are all in favour of it. As are more and more of the CDU, including Ursula von der Leyen and "integration tsar" Maria Böhmer. But the important people aren't, mainly Angela Merkel and muppet-like Family Minister Kristina Schröder. I expect a few Greeks and Portuguese savoured the bitter taste of irony on Wednesday, when Merkel let it be known that she considered the quota something that "should be regulated at a national level, not by the EU". Schröder, meanwhile, is holding fast to her "flexi-quota" idea – that is, companies decide how many women they want on their boards themselves. Hmm, that sounds a bit like not having a quota.
But Viviane Reding, the EU justice commissioner, is not taking any shit. With a Merkel-like mixture of stubbornness and aloof innocence, she merely said she was looking forward to implementing the quota in cooperation with the German government. But Merkel has the population behind her – a survey carried out in April found that only a quarter of Germans think a quota is a good idea, while 61 percent actually like Schröder's pretend-quota idea. This is because most Germans still believe that they live in a politically correct country. And they think this is bad. This was exemplified by the Bild newspaper on Obama's first election in 2008, when the tabloid ran a headline claiming that Germany was way ahead of the States when it comes to nurturing social equality, "because we've had a female chancellor for three years."
If there's one thing people hate more than quotas, it's statistical analyses. Because of Merkel, the other studies don't count – the ones that show that 2.4 percent of Germany's top executives are women, or that the female bosses earn an average of 30 percent less than their male counterparts. Or the stats that show that though around half of German higher education graduates are women, only 31 percent end up in managing positions. As von der Leyen put it, "What happened to all my highly qualified, expensively educated colleagues?"