Women in politics are progressing in the EU, in Hungary they are not

In the last five-year term, both the proportion of women in the European Parliament and in relevant positions in European institutions have improved significantly. In contrast, the Hungarian government hold a negative record for the participation of female ministers: there are none. Hungary is also last in the EU when it comes to the percentage of women in parliament.

Published On: May 24th, 2024


Hungary came last on yet another EU list, this time it has become the leader in the ratio of women ministers and MEPs, in the wrong way. After the resignation of Judit Varga, not only Hungary has the lowest proportion of female ministers in Europe, but this figure is simply 0 percent, as it has no female ministers at all.

For voters familiar with the reality of Hungarian politics, this is probably not an outlier: even before the Fidesz government, the proportion of female ministers in Hungary was never above 30%, and there were occasional periods, such as in 2009, when there were no female ministers. In the first quarter of 2024, Hungary also came last in the EU in terms of female representatives in the national parliament, with 14.1%, just behind Cyprus with 14.3%.

Also, the proportion of Hungarian female MEPs in the European Parliament is 38.1%, barely below the European average of 39.4%. In this article, we focus on how many women are elected, the number of those in prominent positions, and why there are so few of them.

Gender quotas?

The first, perhaps the easiest way, to guarantee that there are women in parliaments, is to introduce a system of quotas for women. In theory, women’s quotas not only ensure women’s representation, but can also help build trust in the presence of female leaders and make it more natural for society. In Hungary, there is no official rule on how many women must be on a given party list or among individual candidates.

There are basically two ways of implementing quotas across Europe. The first one is when the law determines the proportion of candidates who must be women. In general, especially in list voting, this means that women are included in decision-making in approximately the proportion determined by quotas. In most countries, such an official quota effectively guarantees that a third of MEPs are women. However, this is not a miracle solution.

In European countries where there is a quota for women by law, the proportion of female representatives is often exactly what is determined by the mandatory level, not more. For example, in Poland, Malta or Slovenia, where there is this kind of mandatory quota, women MEPs’ share in Parliament is currently equal to the minimum quota. What would the situation be like in these countries if there were no mandatory quotas? Presumably worse. However, such observations do not inspire confidence that mandatory quotas will necessarily lead to better acceptance of female politicians, which can help them in political contests. For the time being, especially in Central and Eastern European regions, it is rather the mandatory nature of quotas that produces results.

The second type of quota system is voluntary, so to speak, when parties decide for themselves whether to introduce any rules about the proportion of women among their candidates. This is not mandatory, and the state has no say or control over quotas. What political parties promise varies across Europe. In Sweden, which has the highest number of female MEPs in the EU (47.3%), four out of eight major political parties have pledged that at least half of their lead candidates will be women.

In Italy, too, several parties have introduced some kind of quota system, including Matteo Salvini’s far-right League, which has pledged never to have more than two-thirds of its candidates of the same sex. It is little known, but there are two parties in Hungary that have made such commitments: MSZP (Hungarian Socialist Party, centre-left) and LMP (Politics Can Be Different, green). The MSZP ensures a minimum of 20% of women on candidate lists, and LMP pledged that no more than two same-sex candidates would ever follow each other on its lists. If you want to browse a bit about the commitments made by parties and countries around the world, from Japan to Lesotho, you can do so here.

Interestingly, Finland, which has the highest number of female MEPs and the second largest number of female parliamentarians, has neither formal nor voluntary commitments. By the way, Finns also lead the list in terms of the percentage of female ministers, with 64.5% of ministers in the country, or nearly two-thirds, being women at the beginning of 2024, which is still a drop from the end of 2023, when the figure was 72.4%. Those who want to compare women’s share in Europe’s parliaments can use this tool, and those who are interested in ministers can take a look here.

Electoral systems

Although some states, such as Luxembourg, Slovenia or France, also apply quotas in European Parliament elections, there are other aspects of the European vote that can attract female candidates. Women’s quota or not, most political scientists agree that in elections where we vote for party lists, women are more likely to be included in decision-making than in elections where individual candidates compete district by district. European Parliament elections work this way, with all Member States drawing up a mandatory list of candidates – although there are countries, such as Austria, where voters can indicate who from the list they would like to see the most in the European Parliament.

The Hungarian parliamentary elections are a mixture of the two systems, with 106 MPs entering Parliament as individual candidates and 100 from party lists. The results of the Hungarian election confirm the rule: 10 of 28 Hungarian female representatives were individual candidates, the rest were selected from lists. By the way, the women who were elected as individual candidates all ran in cities, four in Budapest. The Hungarian countryside did not vote for any woman individually. So it is somewhat logical that EP elections, where candidates run on party lists and urban voters turn out in a slightly higher proportion of voters, could create a more attractive option for female politicians than parliamentary elections.


The final question is how likely women are to be given more prestigious positions, such as ministerial or vice-presidential appointments, once they are included in decision-making. The European Parliament, at least in this term, is not bad at this. The President of the European Parliament is currently Roberta Metsola and the Vice-Presidents are 6 women to 8 men, i.e. around 43%. By comparison, this is closest to Sweden, where the share of female senior ministers (perhaps the most comparable position) is 45.8%.  In the previous term, there was even a Hungarian Vice-President of the EP, a position held by Klára Dobrev for nearly two years. Earlier, between 2017 and 2019, there was a female Hungarian vice-president of the European Parliament, Fidesz politician Ildikó Pelczné Gáll, who, after resigning from the post, was replaced by Lívia Járóka, also a Fidesz party colleague.

As already mentioned, the same ratio is currently zero for us. A similar situation has occasionally arisen in other European countries, such as Cyprus in the mid-2000s, Romania at the end of the decade and the Czech Republic in the early 2010s. There have been many states over the years where there has been only one female member of the cabinet, but zero is considered unusual. Looking at international experience, we have to admit that in most European countries it is not yet very realistic for women to be represented in politics in the same proportion as men. The systematic disadvantage of women may explain why there are fewer women in decision-making or, as mentioned, in science in Hungary, but whether we are talking about ministers or elected academic members, zero women in any position are difficult to defend. For now, the EU is setting a good example and is increasingly giving space to women politicians, often at higher rates than national parliaments. This is especially true in the case of Hungary, where Hungarian women decision-makers are still relatively successful in obtaining positions on the European scene, even if not in Hungary.

Original source: https://hvg.hu/eurologus/20240423_magyarorszag-ismet-hatulrol-az-elso-ezuttal-a-nok-parlamenti-reszveteleben

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