On 20 June 2010 in Vilnius, Lithuania, the Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė and Eva-Britt Svensson (Swedish Member of Parliament) officially announced the opening of the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE). It is the first EU agency that is based in one of the Baltic States of the European Union.
The European Institute for Gender Equality is a new European Union agency with a special focus on gender equality. It is to support the EU Institutions and Member States in promoting and assisting in realization of gender equality, fighting discrimination based on sex and raising awareness about gender issues. EIGE collects and analyses data on gender issues and develops practical tools, especially to include the perspective and needs of women and men in policy areas, to encourage and exchange best practices and dialogue among interested parties, and to raise awareness on equality between women and men among EU citizens. The European Gender Institute is to form a ‘knowledge centre’ (dealing with research, data collection, technical assistance to policy-makers, dissemination of information), serving the goals of the EU gender policy and should be open to governmental and non-governmental, institutional and non-institutional target groups.
The Lithuanian President expressed great satisfaction over the fact that the best gender equality experts from across Europe would work and share their knowledge in Lithuania and that their work, practical and theoretical research would contribute in a major way to joint efforts towards achieving real gender equality. European Commission Vice-President Viviane Reding, Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights, said the Institute would also help raise the visibility of gender equality issues. EIGE Director Virginija Langbakk commented that the Institute’s role is not only about disseminating information on gender equality but also includes involving public figures who care about equality problems in various forms of cooperation.
It has been quite a few years since the idea of setting up a European Institute for Gender Equality came into being in 1995, when Ms Margareta Winberg, the Swedish Minister for Gender Equality, presented a draft proposal for its establishment at a seminar held in Stockholm in June 1999. The process of establishing the body has been rather long. First, in 2000, the European Council recognized the need to raise awareness and promote gender equality. Then, in 2002, the European Commission undertook a feasibility study carried out under the Community Framework Strategy on Gender Equality (2001-2005). It was concluded that there is a clear role for the Institute to carry out some of the tasks which the existing European institutions do not currently deal with, specifically in the areas of coordination and dissemination of research data, network building, raising the visibility of gender equality, highlighting the gender perspective and developing gender mainstreaming tools.
After the study was released, no action was initiated towards a creation of the Institute. Hence, the Women’s Rights Committee of the European Parliament concerned by the lack of activity in that area brought the idea of a European Gender Equality Institute back on the political agenda with its Resolution in March 2004 calling to undertake more efforts leading to the establishment of the Institute. In June 2004, the European Parliament published a report on the Role of a Future European Gender Institute. The Report made it clear that specialized technical expertise is needed in the field of equal opportunities and gender mainstreaming for translating the commitments into action. An autonomous Institute allows the mobilization of expertise by Member States, regions in Europe (e.g. experience with gender budgeting in Scotland or in the Basque region), or by local authorities.
In March 2005, Vladimír Špidla, the EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, proposed the establishment of a new European Institute for Gender Equality. The Institute came into being when the European Parliament and the Council adopted Regulation (EC) No 1922/2006 of 20 December 2006 on establishing a European Institute for Gender Equality. The Institute was established in May 2007, initially in Brussels and then moved to its office in Vilnius, Lithuania.
Much is expected from the new Institute, and we do hope for an effective agency rather than another “formal” body unable to address the issues it was created to deal with. The fact it was established after years of negotiations could be a good sign here – its role may be more visible within the European community.