By Gabriela Baczynska
BRUSSELS (Reuters) -European Union negotiators agreed late on Tuesday to the bloc's first-ever quota for women on corporate boards, lawmakers said, a bid to boost representation and improve gender equality in the bloc of 450 million people.
The law obliges listed companies in all 27 EU member countries to have women take up at least 40% of non-executive board seats, or 33% of executive and non-executive roles combined by mid-2026.
The plan had stalled a decade ago but got new momentum this year with fresh backing from Germany and France.
"We've finally been able to kiss the Sleeping Beauty awake," Lara Wolters, a Dutch socialist and a lead negotiator for the European Parliament on the matter told Reuters.
Gender representation on corporate boards varies broadly by country, with Estonia having 9% of non-executive seats held by women and France more than 45%. The latter has its own legal target of 40% and is the only EU state to surpass that number.
The European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE), an EU agency, said last April such binding quotas have proven more effective in improving balance on boards compared to countries legislating softer measures, or none at all.
Female representation on boards in the EU grew after France, Germany and Italy introduced national goals starting in 2010. But progress has stalled recently with fewer than a third of non-executive board members in the EU's largest listed firms being women, it said.
While there is no penalty for missing the target, companies that do achieve it will win public praise. This would increase pressure to comply, the parliament's liberal Renew faction said after the final round of negotiations with EU member states.
(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Howard Goller)