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Quota for equal treatment


The EFTA Surveillance Authority ESA is grappling with the sabers, and has started investigating Norway's new law that there should be at least 40 percent of both sexes in all ASA-registered boards. Quota opponents are cheering, now Uncle Europe can save all the men who are afraid of losing their directorships. Perhaps the law is in violation of the EU's Equal Treatment Directive, which prohibits all discrimination and positive discrimination. Director Hallgrímur Ásgeirsson of the ESA's Internal Market Affairs Directorate told the Nation on Wednesday that ESA has not decided whether the law is in order or not, but that they have requested more information to investigate whether the law is in compliance with EEA law. Expert on EEA law and law professor at the University of Oslo, Hans Petter Graver does not rule out that this may mean that the law must be withdrawn.

This is not the first time Norwegian quota opponents have looked to Europe. Most recently, with Dag Øistein Endsjø at the helm, they stopped earmarked positions at the University of Oslo. The reason at the time was that men were discriminated against because they did not have access to the positions that were earmarked for women. This time, it is the corporate boards' free choice that is at the center, to choose freely and independently in the free market – according to competence, regardless of gender. The question is about the principle that different treatment is allowed to achieve more equal results between the sexes.

Nuvel. That men should be so much better biologically disposed to make decisions with the board and care than women, is a claim that we logically should have come across long ago. There are other factors than tits and penis that determine how good you are at leading, so we must assume that there are also other factors than abilities that make there so few women in Norwegian boardrooms. Quotas are never a goal, but a tool to correct gross biases. The goal is to achieve equal treatment of the sexes – but then the skewed starting point must first be corrected.

In legal terms, ESA's assessment is exciting. There is no automaticity at all that the control body will judge just as they did last time. Since then, the EU's own regulations have been changed, and the EU has integrated the UN Convention on the Rights of Women by referring directly to it in several directives, which should be interpreted in light of this. In the Convention on Women, positive special treatment is expressed as a legal instrument. In addition, the law is gender neutral, so any argument that it is discriminatory will logically also apply to all other forms of quotas, such as in public committees and boards.

Norway has long been the best in the class when it comes to following all EU laws and directives. Following a previous ruling in the EFTA Court, the earmarking disappeared faster than Berlusconi's party managed to invite quotation entrepreneur Berit Ås to Northern Italy to teach them how to introduce quotas there. They did it anyway. The Soria Moria Declaration calls for an offensive European policy. Now it is time to show the seriousness behind the visions. In this case, the EU has more to learn from Norway than vice versa.


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