COMPARE: Which European nations have the highest (and lowest) percentage of women MPs?

When election results came in on Sunday, Iceland became the first European country where women hold more than half the seats in parliament. We take a look at Europe's best and worst performers when it comes to female representation in politics.

COMPARE: Which European nations have the highest (and lowest) percentage of women MPs?
Icelandic Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir talks to supporters of her Left Green Movement at a party event in Reykjavik on September 25, 2021 after the announcement of partial results in the country's general elections. - Iceland's election on September 25 saw the left-right coalition government widen its majority. However, Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir's Left Green Movement emerged weakened while her right-wing partners posted strong scores, casting doubt over her future as prime minister. (Photo by Tom LITTLE / AFP)

The Althing is thought to be the longest-running parliament in the world. But on Sunday, the Icelandic national parliament really made history. 

Election results point to an elected chamber where 33 out of 63 seats (52 percent) will be held by women. No other European country has ever had a female-majority parliament – although Rwanda (61 percent), Cuba (53 percent) and Nicaragua (51 percent) all fall into this category. 

Iceland has ranked topped the World Economic Forum’s gender equality rankings for the past 12 years and was the first country to elect a female president in 2018.

It has had a pioneering gender-equal pay law that puts the onus on employers to prove they are paying the same wages to men and women since 2018 .

Iceland is not a part of the European Union but does retain close ties with the bloc – which lags some way behind. According to the European Institute for Gender Equality, women made up on average 32 percent of national parliament members across the 27 EU member states in 2020.

The Best Performers

  • Sweden

Sweden is the most progressive EU country as far as equal gender representation in politics is concerned. As many as 47 percent of all MPs in Sweden are women, as are half of its government ministers. The foreign, finance and health ministries are all run by female politicians.

Gender discrimination has been illegal in Sweden since 1980. Ever since 2006, the country has been listed as one of the top five most gender equal countries in an annual 150-country ranking produced by the World Economic Forum.

READ ALSO: No, women in Sweden don’t yet have it all 

  • Finland

Finland comes in at a close second, with 46.5 percent of parliamentary seats held by women. In 2019, Sanna Marin made global headlines after being elected as the world’s youngest serving Prime Minister. She formed a coalition government of five parties, all of which were led by women. 

In 1906, Finland became the first country in the world to extend the vote to women. It also allowed women to stand for parliament. In elections the following year, 19 women won seats. The first female president of Finland was Tarja Halonen who was elected in 2000. 

The Nordic region as a whole has the highest proportion of female parliamentarians anywhere in the world.

  • Spain

Forty-four percent of seats in the Spanish congress are held by women and all four government deputy leaders are women. One of those deputies, Nadia Calviño is also in charge of the Economy Ministry.

READ MORE: Female ministers are now the majority as Spanish PM reshuffles cabinet

Following a recent reshuffle, 54 percent of cabinet members are female meaning that Spain has one of the most gender-progressive executive branches in the world. 

The Worst Performers 

  • Hungary

Hungary has the lowest share of female politicians in the EU. Just 12 percent of MPs are women and just three out of 16 government ministers are women, who weren’t even given full voting rights until 1945. 

The right-wing Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, espouses a particularly macho brand of politics and mainstream political discourse in Hungary tends to confine women to the conservative role of child-bearing houseworkers. 

  • Romania 

The second-worst performer in the EU is Romania, where a mere 19 percent of parliamentarians are female.

The country was led by a female Prime Minister, Viorica Dancila, in 2018-19 but she ultimately stood down following a vote of no confidence. Some analysts claim she was used as a puppet by Liviu Dragnea, the former head of the socialist party who was banned from taking the position himself after being convicted of election rigging. 

  • Czech Republic

The Czech Republic also has a pretty dismal female representation in parliament. Twenty-three percent of Czech MPs are women. This number has been slowly creeping up – but from a very low bar. In the government formed after elections in 2010 for example, there was not a single female minister. 

The in-betweens 

So where do other European countries lie? 

Only 31.4 percent of MPs are female in Germany but that of course is susceptible to change with upcoming elections. Austria fares much better with 39.8 percent female representation in parliament. 

In Italy, 35.6 percent of MPs are female. In France this figure jumps to 38.6 percent. Denmark and Norway, true to Nordic form, hover at around 40 percent, while the Netherlands sits at 33 percent. 

For a full list of European gender statistics, click here

    Member comments

    1. Funnily, after a recount in one constituency, this is no longer true. The number of seats held by each party stays the same but a woman drops out for each of 3 parties and a man takes their place. Its now, quite arbitrarily, 33 men to 30 women, the opposite of what it was this morning. 2 other parties exchange one man for another. The whole thing is bizzarre.

      In glorious Icelandic:

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    How Europe’s population is changing and what the EU is doing about it

    The populations of countries across Europe are changing, with some increasing whilst others are falling. Populations are also ageing meaning the EU is having to react to changing demographics.

    How Europe's population is changing and what the EU is doing about it

    After decades of growth, the population of the European Union decreased over the past two years mostly due to the hundreds of thousands of deaths caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

    The latest data from the EU statistical office Eurostat show that the EU population was 446.8 million on 1 January 2022, 172,000 fewer than the previous year. On 1 January 2020, the EU had a population of 447.3 million.

    This trend is because, in 2020 and 2021 the two years marked by the crippling pandemic, there have been more deaths than births and the negative natural change has been more significant than the positive net migration.

    But there are major differences across countries. For example, in numerical terms, Italy is the country where the population has decreased the most, while France has recorded the largest increase.

    What is happening and how is the EU reacting?

    In which countries is the population growing?

    In 2021, there were almost 4.1 million births and 5.3 million deaths in the EU, so the natural change was negative by 1.2 million (more broadly, there were 113,000 more deaths in 2021 than in 2020 and 531,000 more deaths in 2020 than in 2019, while the number of births remained almost the same).

    Net migration, the number of people arriving in the EU minus those leaving, was 1.1 million, not enough to compensate.

    A population growth, however, was recorded in 17 countries. Nine (Belgium, Denmark, Ireland, France, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands and Sweden) had both a natural increase and positive net migration.

    READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: Five things to know about Germany’s foreign population

    In eight EU countries (the Czech Republic, Germany, Estonia, Spain, Lithuania, Austria, Portugal and Finland), the population increased because of positive net migration, while the natural change was negative.

    The largest increase in absolute terms was in France (+185,900). The highest natural increase was in Ireland (5.0 per 1,000 persons), while the biggest growth rate relative to the existing population was recorded in Luxembourg, Ireland, Cyprus and Malta (all above 8.0 per 1,000 persons).

    In total, 22 EU Member States had positive net migration, with Luxembourg (13.2 per 1 000 persons), Lithuania (12.4) and Portugal (9.6) topping the list.

    Births and deaths in the EU from 1961 to 2021 (Eurostat)

    Where is the population declining?

    On the other hand, 18 EU countries had negative rates of natural change, with deaths outnumbering births in 2021.

    Ten of these recorded a population decline. In Bulgaria, Italy, Hungary, Poland, and Slovenia population declined due to a negative natural change, while net migration was slightly positive.

    In Croatia, Greece, Latvia, Romania and Slovakia, the decrease was both by negative natural change and negative net migration.

    READ ALSO: Italian class sizes set to shrink as population falls further

    The largest fall in population was reported in Italy, which lost over a quarter of a million (-253,100).

    The most significant negative natural change was in Bulgaria (-13.1 per 1,000 persons), Latvia (-9.1), Lithuania (-8.7) and Romania (-8.2). On a proportional basis, Croatia and Bulgaria recorded the biggest population decline (-33.1 per 1,000 persons).

    How is the EU responding to demographic change?

    From 354.5 million in 1960, the EU population grew to 446.8 million on 1 January 2022, an increase of 92.3 million. If the growth was about 3 million persons per year in the 1960s, it slowed to about 0.7 million per year on average between 2005 and 2022, according to Eurostat.

    The natural change was positive until 2011 and turned negative in 2012 when net migration became the key factor for population growth. However, in 2020 and 2021, this no longer compensated for natural change and led to a decline.

    READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: One in four Austrian residents now of foreign origin

    Over time, says Eurostat, the negative natural change is expected to continue given the ageing of the population if the fertility rate (total number of children born to each woman) remains low.

    This poses questions for the future of the labour market and social security services, such as pensions and healthcare.

    The European Commission estimates that by 2070, 30.3 per cent of the EU population will be 65 or over compared to 20.3 per cent in 2019, and 13.2 per cent is projected to be 80 or older compared to 5.8 per cent in 2019.

    The number of people needing long-term care is expected to increase from 19.5 million in 2016 to 23.6 million in 2030 and 30.5 million in 2050.

    READ ALSO: How foreigners are changing Switzerland

    However, demographic change impacts different countries and often regions within the same country differently.

    When she took on the Presidency of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen appointed Dubravka Šuica, a Croatian politician, as Commissioner for Democracy and Demography to deal with these changes.

    Among measures in the discussion, in January 2021, the Commission launched a debate on Europe’s ageing society, suggesting steps for higher labour market participation, including more equality between women and men and longer working lives.

    In April, the Commission proposed measures to make Europe more attractive for foreign workers, including simplifying rules for non-EU nationals who live on a long-term basis in the EU. These will have to be approved by the European Parliament and the EU Council.

    In the fourth quarter of this year, the Commission also plans to present a communication on dealing with ‘brain drain’ and mitigate the challenges associated with population decline in regions with low birth rates and high net emigration.

    This article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News, a news outlet about citizens’ rights in the EU and the UK.