The original plan obliged all publicly traded companies to fill a quota of 40 percent of women by 2020 or risk incurring fines and sanctions, has now been scrapped. EU lawyers have ruled that mandatory gender quotas are not allowed under the region’s treaties.

The EU justice commissioner, Viviane Reding, announced the suspension of the proposal, after months of defending the scheme. There had been vociferous opposition from within the European Commission since the proposal was announced, which was facing a potentially divisive vote within the commission.

Nations opposing the notion argued that any quota system should be addressed domestically, by national policy-makers rather than across the bloc.

José Manual Barroso, president of the EC, has given Reding a further two weeks to redesign the proposal in a legally compliant way. It has been speculated that the quota system will be re-launched as a target for companies to meet voluntarily, rather than a legal requisite.

“We have been fighting now for 100 years,” said Reding. “One or two weeks now doesn’t make a difference.”

Somewhat counter intuitively, four of Europe’s most prominent female commissioners, from Britain, the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark, all opposed the forced quota system.

The proposal will be brought back to the EC by the middle of November.

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